AUGUSTA, Maine — A plan to abolish the State Planning Office and replace it with a new Office of Policy and Management was presented to lawmakers on Tuesday as a way to maintain momentum of the current administration’s budget streamlining efforts.
Deputy Finance Commissioner David Emery outlined the recommendations of an 11-member work group — created out of the state budget that passed in June — tasked with looking at ways to reorganize the planning office.
Those recommendations include: eliminating the planning office, shifting a number of the office’s responsibilities and employees to other state departments and creating the Office of Policy and Management.
Emery said the new office would give the governor a mechanism for developing policies and drafting legislation around effective financial management strategies.
Another part of the governor’s $6.1 billion biennial budget that passed in June was the creation of a budget streamline and prioritization task force. That group, made up of lawmakers and others, recently signed off on more than $25 million in savings for the current 2012 fiscal year.
Emery said he sees the new office as a continual tool for the governor to streamline and prioritize government services and how taxpayer dollars are spent.
The abolition of the State Planning Office has been in the works for several months.
John Nass, a senior policy adviser to Gov. Paul LePage, told members of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee on Tuesday that a number of positions within the planning office were eliminated in the 2012-13 budget in preparation for the expected changes.
Daryl Brown, the governor’s choice to lead the State Planning Office, stepped down last month after the work group’s recommendations were first presented, indicating that his work was done.
Emery said the State Budget Office still is in the process of conducting an analysis of how much money the changes will save, but he has projected a net general fund savings of $423,000.
The following changes are proposed:
- The director, deputy director and two senior executive positions in the planning office would be eliminated. Funds to support those positions would be used to fund positions within the new Office of Policy and Management.
- The Office of Energy Independence and Security would be relocated within the Office of the Governor.
- The Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission (CEFC) would be moved to the new Office of Policy and Management.
- The state economist and the assistant state economist also would be transferred to the new Office of Policy and Management.
- Waste management and recycling functions would be turned over to the Department of Environmental Protection.
- Ownership of all state-owned landfills, including the newly acquired Dolby Landfill, would be transferred to the Bureau of General Services within Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
- All land-use planning would be conducted through the Department of Conservation.
- The following state groups would be repealed: the Solid Waste Management Advisory Council; the Quality of Place Council; the Land and Water Resources Council; and the Community Preservation Advisory Council.
- Funding for the 11 Regional Planning Commissions would be continued.
Some lawmakers wondered whether the creation of an Office of Management and Policy would conflict or overlap with the duties of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.
Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said OPEGA is overseen by the Legislature’s Government Operations Committee. The proposed new office does not have that type of oversight mechanism.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, had similar concerns about whether the new office would give the governor’s office too much power.
Emery, however, said he sees the two departments as separate. He said OPEGA is a tool for the Legislature while the Office of Management and Policy would be a mechanism for the executive branch of government.
“Any changes to government structure would have to go through the same process as any other bill, so that works as oversight,” Emery said.
The recommendations discussed by lawmakers on Tuesday have been turned into draft legislation, which must be approved by the Legislature before they go into effect.