AUGUSTA — Lawmakers on the Legislature's budgetary committee Tuesday questioned the LePage administration's proposal to dissolve the state's planning agency while creating a new department designed to bolster the governor's streamlining efforts.
The administration outlined its proposal to panelists on the Appropriations Committee. The plan includes dismantling the State Planning Office and redistributing its duties to other state agencies. It also includes creating the Office of Policy Management, which would be required to find $1 million in annual savings in state government.
The proposal equips the new agency with subpoena powers and the ability to review other departments' proprietary information. While the SPO had subpoena power, the administration acknowledged that the new agency would become more of an investigative and oversight tool for the governor.
David Emery, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said the new agency would be similar to the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the Legislature's watchdog agency.
"The Legislature has an investigative arm, so should the executive branch," Emery said.
Some Republican lawmakers questioned whether the proposal equipped the new department with too much power and duplicated OPEGA duties.
They also questioned the agency's annual savings mandate, which could reduce government programs.
Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, asked how the agency would measure the public benefits of programs targeted for reductions.
According to its authorizing legislation, the new agency is designed to act as a permanent streamlining agency that would evaluate potential savings in state government and departmental requests for federal dollars.
The agency's proposed annual $1 million budget would be funded by finding an equivalent amount in annual savings elsewhere, every year.
Fredette noted that OPEGA is overseen by a bipartisan committee, while the new agency would answer only to the governor. Other lawmakers questioned whether there were sufficient safeguards to prevent the agency from abusing what Fredette described as "extremely broad power."
Emery said the new agency was designed to evaluate the performance of government while supporting the governor's long-term fiscal policies. He said its formation wasn't meant to be a "power grab" by the governor's office.
Also on Tuesday, some lawmakers questioned whether the reorganization plan for the State Planning Office was a wise move.
Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, worried that the comprehensive state planning responsibilities that existed within the SPO couldn't effectively be absorbed by understaffed agencies.
The reorganization plan shifts duties currently in the planning agency to other departments. It also eliminates five front-office positions, the savings of which would be used in staffing the new policy management agency.
* The Office of Energy Independence and Security would move to the governor's office.
* The Maine Commission for Community Service would be moved into the Department of Education.
* Code enforcement training functions would be moved to the Office of Community Development within the Department of Economic and Community Development.
* The federally funded FEMA Floodplain Mapping Program would move to the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
* All land-use planning functions would be consolidated within the Department of Conservation.
* The state economist and assistant state economist would be transferred to the new Office of Policy and Management.
* The Maine Coastal Program would be moved to the Bureau of Geological Services and Natural Areas within the Department of Conservation.
* Waste Management and Recycling Program functions would be relocated to the Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management within the DEP.
* Ownership of the state-owned landfills would be transferred to the Bureau of General Services within the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
The administration says the restructuring plan would save more than $400,000.
Lawmakers will further evaluate the plan when the Legislature reconvenes next session.