A pared-down solution for Georgia

Here’s a brain teaser: How many state agencies, authorities, commissions and departments do Georgia taxpayers support?

Need a hint? Texas, with two and a half times as many people as Georgia, has about 150.

If you guessed 133, move to the head of the (political) class.

That’s right: There are one hundred thirty-three bureaucratic outposts here in Georgia. And, says state Rep. Charlice Byrd, “These are just the ones we know about on the books. The governor has his own boards and authorities that we can’t even get a grasp on.”

The Republican from Woodstock would know, because for a few years running she has promoted the Georgia Government Accountability Act. The bill (H.B. 236) would create a “sunset advisory committee” of legislators to review those 133 state bodies.

The committee members would review the 133 in bunches every two years, gauging each one’s efficiency, productivity and responsiveness to citizens once a decade. A negative finding by the panel could lead to the agency receiving a new mission, being merged with another body or even being abolished.

Big money is at stake. Since introducing its own sunset panel in 1977, Texas has eliminated 47 agencies and consolidated 11 others. By 2003, the state estimates, taxpayers had saved more than $700 million.

Georgia would seem to be ripe for agency consolidation, at the very least. For instance, do we really need to have a Student Finance Authority and a Student Finance Commission? How about an Employees Retirement System, a Legislative Retirement System, a Judicial Retirement System and a Teachers Retirement System? Surely there’s overlap in these and other agencies.

Abolishing state bodies wholesale is not necessarily the bill’s primary purpose. “Right-sizing” government and fighting back against unwanted bureaucratic growth in the form of “mission creep” are others.

Here’s an example. Separately from Byrd’s bill, the free-market thinkers at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation recently released a report calling for the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to be scaled down.

Unless you’re a local-government wonk, you might never have heard of GEFA. In the mid-1980s, the legislature created GEFA to finance water and sewer infrastructure for cities and counties that couldn’t borrow money in the private markets. But it now also lends to jurisdictions with investment-grade ratings, including AAA-rated Cobb and Gwinnett counties.

The Public Policy Foundation calls for limiting GEFA to acting as a lender of last resort for cities and counties – and even for some of its $500 million-plus loan portfolio to be securitized and sold to help refill the state’s ever more depleted coffers.

Georgia’s budget situation may be the thing that helps Byrd’s bill finally gain some traction at the Gold Dome. The governor has already ordered most agencies to cut their budgets by 5 percent, some teachers face furloughs, and legislators fear an even greater budget bloodbath come the 2010 session.

Smart ways to pare government, then, ought to be in fashion. The sunset bill hasn’t gotten so much as a hearing in the past. That might change now that more than 10 new co-sponsors have signed on, bringing the total to more than 20, Byrd says.

Targeted, regular approaches to making government efficient recognize that tough times will return, and that across-the-board cuts “hurt the agencies that might have been run pretty well” already, says Kelly McCutchen of the Public Policy Foundation.

Reward good governance, and we just might get more of it.

Note: Kyle Wingfield will begin blogging daily later this month. Commenting on this blog will open then.

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[...] Kyle Wingfield on a pared-down solution for Georgia. [...]

[...] those lines, Rep. Charlice Byrd (R., Woodstock) has proposed a regular “sunset review” to determine which state offices should be kept, closed or combined [...]

[...] is the sunset review legislation, a mechanism by which lawmakers will review all state boards, commissions, committees, agencies and [...]