New budget oversight office has LOFTy goals

This Tuesday afternoon will mark the first meeting of the Oversight Committee for the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT). The Committee is a new House and Senate joint committee created with passage of SB 1 last session. The committee is composed of seven House and seven Senate members, two of whom in each chamber must be members of the minority party. The inaugural members are: Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okemah), Co-Chair; Sen. Michael Brooks (D-OKC); Sen. Kim David (R-Porter); Sen. Chuck Hall (R-Perry); Sen. Julia Kirt (D-OKC); Sen. Dewayne Pemberton (R-Muskogee); Rep. Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston) Co-Chair; Rep. Meloyde Blancett (D-Tulsa); Rep. Jeff Boatman (R-Tulsa) Rep. Jon Echols (R-OKC) Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Depew); Rep. Cyndi Munson (D-OKC); and Rep. Mike Osburn (R-Edmond).

A reading of SB 1 reveals this committee and LOFT could develop into a legislative powerhouse. To do everything it is charged with doing, LOFT could also grow into a very large office. To me, it seems to be something of a combination of the federal Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and an Inspector General Office. It can demand information from agencies, compare that with independently developed information, conduct evaluations and audits, and investigate agencies for compliance with law and regulations.

The CBO, if I understand it correctly, has credibility because it is legally, and generally trusted to be, above the political fray. I’m not sure this will happen with LOFT. Given the demonstrated desire of Governor Stitt, and probably any governor, to largely control the executive branch, it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out with an assertive legislative office with budget, evaluation, audit, and investigation powers.

It appears the initial meeting will be for the committee members to become familiar with the new law and perhaps discuss how to get started with their new duties. LOFT, which they are overseeing, will be a new office within the Legislature that will be funded through the Legislative Services Bureau. The purpose of LOFT is to “assist the Legislature in performing its constitutional and statutory function of ensuring that government funds are expended in a fiscally responsible manner.”

LOFT will gather information regarding proposed agency budgets, determine the extent to which the agency budget fulfills the agency’s primary duties and responsibilities, analyze and forecast all revenues and fees available to the agency, compare agency budget information with information provided in prior years, and conduct investigations regarding the operations of the agency.

Beyond budgeting information, LOFT will conduct performance evaluations and “independent comprehensive performance audits” of state agencies. It may contract with private entities or the State Auditor and Inspector for audits. State agencies are mandated to cooperate with the oversight committee and with LOFT in the providing of any information requested. The oversight committee shall have the power to conduct hearings, administer oaths, issue subpoenas, and compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of information.

Tuesday will mark the beginning of a new relationship between the legislature, the governor and state agencies. It will be interesting to see how it develops.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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