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Thursday, May 27, 2010

More Power to the Attorney General?

Without a question, one of the most powerful positions in the state of Oklahoma is that of the Attorney General.  Sure, the Corporation Commission regulates approximately 80% of the state's economy, but all agencies must go through the Attorney General's office for opinions regarding everything from determining Constitutional aspects of legislation to ethics commission rulings.

Jarod Morris, a friend of mine on Facebook and gentleman who attended law school with my wife, wrote an interesting note on a bill that sailed through the House recently that would give the Attorney General's office more power, more control and all under the guise of "saving money."  Here is Jarod's article:

HB2465 was introduced during the last week of session in an effort to save money by consolidating all agency attorneys to the AG's office and placing these attorneys on the (lower) pay scale of the AG's office. Fiscal analysis states that about 50 attorneys are expected to quit rather than accept being paid at the lower AG pay scale. There is no indication that any of these attorneys will be replaced, and the analysis cites additional savings due to these resignations.
It's all semantics anyway!
50 attorneys working 50 out of 52 weeks a year for 40 hours per week is about 10,000 hours of work that Oklahoma is not buying. This is saving Oklahomans an estimated $100 per hour, but how can it be savings when we're also not getting the work from those attorneys? Each state agency will have the same legal demands for the AG's office, yet now across the board, there will be approximately 10,000 fewer hours per year in which to meet the legal demands of each state agency. Additionally, 50 is only an estimate. How did anyone come up with 50? With the given economy, many of these attorneys may choose to be paid less than not at all because finding a job is not easy right now. What if only 10 quit? Does this mean we'll save 20% of the projected amount? What if the estimate is incredibly low and 80 or 100 quit? This could absolutely cripple state agencies. Will state agencies resort to hiring outside counsel just to get the work done? Think any law firm is going to work for $100 per hour? No way!
Buying Less Does Not Equal Saving More
I'll attempt to put this into an everyday example: Everyone needs groceries. Lets say my wife sends me to Homeland to get some stuff for dinner after work. I got to Homeland and I get 5 of the 10 things she told me to get and instead of spending $20, I spend $10. I just saved $10 right? Wrong! I spent $10 less because I bought $10 less food! The state is doing the same thing. While there may be inefficiencies that may be resolved by consolidating agency counsel into one area, saying that we save $10,000,000 by buying $10,000,000 less in labor is grossly misleading. Assuming that state agencies can function efficiently with ~10,000 fewer hours in attorney time is not realistic. Any savings that may actually be realized will come at a cost to state agencies and in the end, the citizens of Oklahoma.
Power to the People Attorney General
The AG is the CEO of the AG's office and anyone in that office will have to answer to the AG. The other agencies will not like having to cater to the AG in order to make sure their agency projects don't get put to the back burner of an already overloaded attorney. This gives more power to the Attorney General.

Take it for what you like, but it appears to me as though this is a power grab, or someone trying to "pay it forward" politically.  Something about it doesn't seem right and Jarod nailed it.
Consolidating offices makes sense at times, particularly where administrative functions of school districts are concerned but we're yet to see serious legislation such as this come forward in light of the upcoming elections.