New commission for evaluating state agency spending lays out groundwork

New commission for evaluating state agency spending lays out groundwork

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Liz Filmore, the deputy chief of staff to Gov. Kay Ivey, are the chair and vice-chair of a new state commission created to inventory state agency programs, their services and their return in investment for the state.

Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, sponsored the legislation this year that created the Commission on Evaluation of Services.

During its first meeting Monday, Wingo said the commission is needed so lawmakers can make smart decisions when appropriating funds and to evaluate what has the best impact for the state.

“As part-time legislators, we are asked to make decisions on appropriations, and the reality is that we cannot make wise decisions on limited information,” Wingo said. “We needed to make sure it was accurate information so that we can make those decisions that the people are asking us to make.”

Othni Lathram is the Director of the Legislative Service Agency. Its fiscal division provides impartial budget analysis to lawmakers. Lawmakers previously created within the agency the Alabama Support Team for Evidence-Based Practices. There are currently four staff members that work on ASTEP and as of today, the first day of the new budget year, they are their own entity.

“As decision makers we weren’t really looking at a full inventory of what services departments and agencies were providing,” Lathram said. “We weren’t looking to see if they were reaching the target audience that the legislators and the governor thought they were funding those services for.”

The commission is made up six lawmakers and six Ivey appointees, which a few members said was key in order to get both perspectives of the two main players in creating the state’s General Fund budget.

“I think the only way this program has a chance to be successful is to have collaborative effort between both the executive and legislative branches,” Kelly Butler, theDirector of Alabama’s Department of Finance, said.

“Previous efforts have had either one or the other but not both, so I’m optimistic that this is the best chance we have to make this a productive process,” Butler said.

Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield, said that this is a “massive undertaking” so the information that is to be gathered would not be ready in time 2021 General Fund budget discussions. The state’s General Fund budget for 2020 is $2.1 billion,