OKLAHOMA CITY -- Saying that government bureaucracy is the biggest challenge facing the state, Oklahoma's governor Monday called for multiple agency consolidations.

"In my first year of public service and as the chief executive, I have found government too big and too broken," Gov. Kevin Stitt told lawmakers in his annual State of the State address, which also kicked off the start of the 57th legislative session.

Stitt called on lawmakers to begin creating one central health care agency that consolidates the functions of the state Department of Health, Health Care Authority, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and others. He wants that process completed by 2022.

He also called on lawmakers to pass legislation to merge corrections and pardon and parole. Stitt also wants Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Oklahoma Turnpike Authority combined.

And, he pressed officials to merge Department of Emergency Management and Office of Homeland Security into one agency in an effort to bolster response capabilities, streamline coordination and leverage existing resources.

"Some will cry that consolidation is disruptive," Stitt said. "Let me be clear, it will be -- for political insiders and those that find comfort in big bureaucracy. But it is what we need to do to improve decision-making, deliver better accountability and target dollars directly towards helping our citizens instead of paying for administrative bloat."

He said Oklahoma has the 28th largest population, but the ninth most state agencies in the country.

Eighteen entities license health care facilities and providers, and 10 different agencies handle Medicaid funds.

"There is no value to having more agencies than other states," Stitt said. "It has not solved our bottom 10 rankings in critical categories."

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said for all Stitt's talk on minimizing bureaucracy, it's interesting he wants to create one of the largest state health care agencies ever in a bid to centralize power.

"That's going to be an unworkable nightmare for citizens who are trying to navigate this huge agency," she said.

Virgin also said she was struck by Stitt's assessment that bureaucracy is the biggest obstacle that Oklahomans currently face.

"I think if you polled all 3 million Oklahomans, none of them would say bureaucracy," she said. "They would talk about how their kindergarten classes are too big. They talk about how they can't deliver a baby in their hometown, how they have to deliver babies hours away. [They'd talk about] how they don't have access to high quality affordable health care.

"They're not thinking about bureaucracy," Virgin said. "That's something that the governor is thinking about because he see obstacles to getting what he wants done."

But Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said bureaucracy is an obstacle.

"We always have to make sure that we're modernizing the approach and delivery of services to our constituents," he said. "I'm excited to look at those. A lot of those have not been looked at in years."

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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