Reducing the size of the Oklahoma Legislature by 10 percent would save over $1 million annually, according to information presented at a legislative study today.
“We constantly talk about the need to downsize government,” said Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City. “I believe this proposal will allow lawmakers to prove their commitment to smaller government in a way that makes sense and generates real taxpayer savings.”
Banz plans to amend his House Joint Resolution 1021 in the 2012 session to give voters the opportunity to approve a constitutional amendment reducing the Oklahoma Legislature by approximately 10 percent. That would cut the number of seats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 101 to 91, and reduce the number of state senators from 48 to 43.
That change would reduce legislative expenses by an estimated $1.2 million annually, according to projections.
“There are two fundamental questions that need to be addressed as part of this discussion,” Banz said. “Can we afford to continue the current system, and can we trust the voters to make this decision?”
Using current state population figures, Banz’ plan would increase the number of constituents in each state House district by just a little over 4,000. The average number of constituents per House district would increase from today’s 37,142 to 41,224. Constituents in each state Senate district would increase from 78,153 to 87,241.
If approved by voters in November 2012, the change would be implemented in 2021 following the next Census and redistricting process.
“As the state population grows, the number of constituents per district also increases, so reducing the number of seats in the Legislature will only slightly accelerate what is occurring naturally anyway,” Banz said. “My proposal maintains reasonably sized districts while reducing costs.”
Banz said other state legislatures have districts of a similar or greater size than those proposed in his legislation, noting that legislators in 28 other states currently represent more constituents per-capita than Oklahoma lawmakers do.
For example, Oregon’s population is nearly identical to Oklahoma’s population, yet Oregon’s Legislature has just 60 state House districts and 30 state Senate seats, far fewer than what Banz has proposed.
Other states in Oklahoma’s region have more constituents-per-lawmaker. In Texas, there are 167,637 people per state House member. In Colorado, there are 77,372 constituents per state House seat and in Louisiana there are 43,175 people per state House district.
Missouri House members represent 400 less constituents than Oklahoma House members. Arkansas and New Mexico House members each represent just over 29,000 and Kansas just less than 23,000.
Oklahoma has also operated with fewer seats in the state House of Representatives and has successfully downsized in the past.
In 1921, there were just 92 seats in the Oklahoma House of Representative, only one more than the total that would be allowed under Banz’ legislation.
On the other hand, in 1953 there were 124 members in the state House, far more than there are today.
“There is no doubt that we can reduce the number of lawmakers without adversely impacting constituent representation,” Banz said. “Technological changes in transportation and communication over the past 40 years make access to state government officials and the governing process easier than at any time in our state history.”