Huntsman plans to restructure state offices

Published: Friday, Jan. 14 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Thursday that he wants to expand his office to include at least three other areas of state government in addition to economic development.
Information technology, energy development and a new public lands group would all eventually become part of the governor's office under Huntsman's proposal to begin restructuring state government.
The new governor would also like to demote the state Department of Human Resources to a division within the state Department of Administrative Services. And he's already decided to close the state's two-person lobbying office in Washington, D.C.
Most of the changes will require legislative approval, and Huntsman said he believes he'll get it during the upcoming session that begins Monday.
That's despite the controversy sparked by the governor's firing of some 33 political appointees in the state Department of Economic and Community Development during his first week in office.
"The executive branch is a far-flung bureaucracy — 22,000 employees. All we're trying to do is make it more accountable," Huntsman said. "It's not trying to empower the governor's office beyond that which we should be doing."
Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said he generally likes what Huntsman is trying to do, especially when it comes to economic development. Still, Valentine said lawmakers may make some alterations to the governor's proposals.
Huntsman said he's "gone overboard" in seeking support from legislative leaders for his plans. "My ears are finely tuned to what the market will bear," the governor said. "I don't want to ramrod something through that I know is going to fail."
That means waiting until the 2006 Legislature to introduce a portion of his tax reform plan. He said he won't try to push plans to take the sales tax off food, for example, until then. Beginning the phase-out of corporate and capital gains taxes is on this session's agenda.
Huntsman may just be getting started with his restructuring plans, too. He said that he'll continue studying whether the large Health Department should be combined with the even larger Human Services Department.
But the sweeping personnel changes are over with, at least for now, the governor said, although a "flexible freeze" in hiring may be put in place in the next year or two to shrink the size of state government.
Only jobs related to the health and safety of Utahns would be exempt from the freeze, Huntsman said. His plan to consolidate all of the state's 1,000 or so information technology workers into his office over time may result in some of those jobs being eliminated.
Economic development, the centerpiece of Huntsman's campaign, is supposed to benefit the most from his proposals.
Huntsman himself will lead the state's economic development effort.
He's already announced he seeks to dismantle the Department of Community and Economic Development, transferring the remaining employees into his office and creating a new Department of Community and the Arts.
The state energy office would become part of the governor's economic development effort, with a new emphasis on extracting oil shale and tar sand deposits in Utah as oil prices rise. The state office in Washington, D.C., though, won't be.
Huntsman said he believes the state is already adequately represented by its congressional delegation and the $250,000 or so that the office costs could be better used hiring expert lobbyists as needed.
Utah's overseas economic development offices might also end up shuttered, the governor said. Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to Singapore, said the federal government's embassies can provide economic development assistance in Asia and other markets.
A new public lands policy coordinating office would answer to both the governor's new rural affairs coordinator, former Lt. Gov. Gayle McKeachnie, and the state Department of Natural Resources.

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