Wyland Bill Targets the 'Bill Factory'

MAR. 29, 2011

By KATY GRIMES

The massive production process of the “bill factory” at the Capitol can be considered a success if quantity is the goal, rather than quality. More than 2,000 bills have already been introduced since January 1, and the quality appears to be lacking.

For the third consecutive year, attempting to address this production and substance problem, Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Escondido, has introduced three Senate Constitutional Amendment bills to put a halt to the bill production process in order to get some meaningful legislative work done.

Wyland is critical of the massive bill production process. “After we make these tough budget decisions, this body will go right back into the bill factory,” said Wyland. 

“We will spend all of our time reviewing bills in committee, but they don’t address the crisis.”

Wyland has introduced what he describes as a government reform package to restructure the legislative process by ending the “bill factory,” and instead, create the time needed for the oversight and in-depth analysis of program effectiveness – tasks that many say are already included within the job description for legislators.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 2 requires that the Legislature spend the first year of every two-year session working on nothing but budget oversight, economic investment and job creation, leaving the second year for all other legislative business.

The companion measure, Senate Constitutional Amendment 1, would require the state Auditor to conduct a performance evaluation of every state government program. The audit findings will provide lawmakers with the substantive information necessary to implement cost controls, strengthen government accountability and determine spending priorities. 

“We give the big issues, like job creation and economic development lip service, but then everyone moves on and we don’t address the issues in detail or offer real solutions,” said Wyland.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 3,is a transparency measure which would give lawmakers and the public at least 21 days to review the budget before a vote can occur. Wyland said that he has been required to vote for a budget literally hot off a printing press. “Allowing the time for in-depth analysis and rigorous debate will strengthen the quality of the budget and help restore the public’s trust in government,” Wyland said.

But there are several hitches – Wyland’s bills were stuck in the Senate Rules Committee which has been preventing committee assignments.  The Rules Committee decides the appropriate committees into which a bill is assigned – and ultimately whether or not a bill gets heard in a committee.

I did not hear back from the the Senate Rules Committee, although Sen. Wyland’s office said that just today, after my inquiries were made, they received a call from the Rules Committee saying the measure will be “triple referred out of Rules committee on Wednesday,” meaning they are assigning Wyland’s bill requesting the audit, to the governmental organization committee, back to the rules committee and to the elections committee.

Very happy with the decision, Wyland said it is crucial that the Legislature agrees to allow the state Auditor to do a performance cost efficiency analysis. “We need to stop the bills from coming, long enough to have the time to talk about controlling costs. And it’s not just about cuts.” He stressed that requesting an audit doesn’t mean massive cuts. “Correcting inefficiencies can mean giving more money to necessary services. But we can’t do that unless and until an audit is done,” said Wyland.

“All businesses and individuals do this,” said Wyland, “whether buying a car, or analyzing income versus expenses to control costs.” And Wyland said that Elaine Howle, the state Auditor, is eminently qualified to do the performance evaluation.

However, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee notified Wyland that his proposal is just too expensive. “I have determined that the cost estimate for your proposed SCA 1 is considerably large,” Democratic Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, chairman of the committee, wrote to Wyland in a letter. Lara said the $17 million price tag would prevent the auditor’s office from doing the federally and state mandated work. But the letter did not address potential savings to the state with analysis of the state’s programs and expenditures.

Cameron Valderama, an analyst with the JLAC committee explained, “A joint legislative rule states that before a committee can act on a bill, JLAC is charged with providing an estimate of the bill’s costs. And we got that information from the auditor,” Valderama explained.

The State Auditor is charged with “promoting the efficient and effective management  of public funds and programs by providing citizens and governments independent, objective, accurate and timely evaluations of state and local government activities.”

Wyland said that even if it takes some extra employees, the state Auditor should do the performance and cost efficiency audit. “We debate economic efficiencies but never invite CEO’s to tell us what they need from us. We should be asking Intel, ‘what do you need from us?’ If you ask them, they will tell us.”

The first bill, SCA 1, is slated be heard next week in the government organization committee.

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