Harrisburg – Two state House Republicans are in the beginning stages of proposing legislation that could delay a major portion of the state budget plan: the consolidation of four state human services agencies.
Republican state Reps. Gene DiGirolamo and Seth Grove began circulating a co-sponsorship memo for legislation to delay consolidating the Department of Human Services, Department of Health, Department of Aging and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. They want to wait until studies conducted by the Joint State Government Commission and the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee can be completed and shared with the Legislature.
"The governor's proposal would collapse the Departments of Aging, Drug and Alcohol Programs, Health and Human Services into one mega-agency. I am very concerned about this," DiGirolamo wrote in the memo. "We need to learn and think carefully about the financial and the programmatic impact of this proposal on our constituents before considering moving forward."
The two required studies would be completed within one year of the effective date of the legislation.
On his Facebook page, Grove argued the proposal will allow the merger to take place only when a concrete plan is developed and the full implications are known.
"To date, after several hearings, the residents of Pennsylvania and elected officials do not have any further details outside of a name change," Grove said.
The issue was vetted during state budget hearings in February and March, and the legislative committees who oversee the departments in each chamber have held additional hearings on the concept, with more slated for the future.
Some lawmakers are concerned about the lack of a discernable plan for how these agencies are supposed to come together in just a little over two and a half months.
“The reaction has been a combination of being intrigued at the possibilities of the efficiencies and cost-savings and being deeply concerned about the challenges this implementation may have,” said Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker during a recent hearing on the issue. “There is a recognition that this is a complex undertaking and to be taken on a rather tight timeline.”
Sarah Galbally, Gov. Tom Wolf’s secretary of policy and planning, told lawmakers that legislative approval of the plan would be needed, as the administration and the Legislature work on a solution.
“When we get legislation that allows us to move forward, our goal is to continue working with members of the General Assembly to have your buy-in and that we are following your intent in merging these four agencies into a new consolidated one,” she said.
In his budget plan, the governor has counted on $104 million in savings from the consolidation of the four agencies into one Department of Health and Human Services and the consolidation of the Department of Corrections and Board of Probation and Parole – a failed idea carried over from previous budget proposals.
However, Republican lawmakers are concerned about the estimated savings because they haven’t seen plans to cut the operations from any of the departments. They argue the plan could merely merge four agencies into one mega-agency with little relative savings in return.
That being said, the House GOP proposal that was sent to the state Senate last week does include the merger as part of their steps to reinvent state government.
“Right now we carried forward on the line-items as if the agencies would be merged and consolidated,” House Majority Leader Dave Reed said. “Obviously that would require separate legislation as we go through that process.”
He added that, in discussions with the governor, he has noted many of his members have concerns about the consolidations and how they will be implemented. The state House is expected to continue with its hearings regarding the consolidations on Monday. The proposed consolidations would start at the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1.
“We expect cooperation in that discussion in the following weeks; carrying it forward on the balance sheet should not be considered as a rubber stamp that we’re automatically on board with each and every one of these consolidations,” he said. “That’s something we’ll continue to negotiate.”
Savings aside, it was the concept alone that drew a horde of those serviced by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to the state Capitol last week to join with DiGirolamo and former DDAP Secretary Gary Tennis – who was allegedly ousted from his role due to his lack of support for the consolidations – to call on the governor and legislature to not move DDAP into a bureau-level position and instead to keep the stand-alone agency.
“Are we going to go into a large bureaucracy? Are we going to go there? Do we want to go down in to the bottom of a large bureaucracy? What’s our message to the administration? Hell no, we won’t go,” DiGirolamo said to supporters. “There is very, very little support in the Legislature to do this.”