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LeRoy Collins Institute Updates Its Suggestions For More Efficient And Effective State Government

LeRoy Collins Institute

Even though state government doesn't have to turn a profit like businesses do, operating efficiently is still a good goal. One organization that is suggesting some ways for Florida's state government to function more efficiently AND effectively, is the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University. Its latest report was authored by Gary VanLandhingham who's affiliated with FSU's Reuben Askew School of Public Policy. And VanLandhingham noted this isn't the first such report.

"This started back in the 2000s with a report that looked at the revenue situation that Florida had and then the needs that Florida was facing. It pointed out there was a real mismatch between Florida's revenue base and the demands placed on the state to deal with challenges such as building infrastructure, educating our kids, mobility problems, and called the report 'Tough Choices.'"

Florida officials didn't exactly race to adopt the report recommendations, said VanLandhingham. So a second, more urgent follow-up report followed.

"In 2012-2013 the Collins Institute - after the Great Recession - updated that with a report called 'Tougher Choices,' saying that if anything the Tough Choice report had been too optimistic; that Florida's revenue situation continued to be very challenging. Florida was the first state into the Great Recession. It hit us harder than most other states and at the same time those infrastructure and social needs continued to grow."

If things were bad then, today they are likely even worse. The pandemic has eviscerated Florida's hospitality dependent economy. Revenue losses are in multi-billion dollar territory. And VanLandhingham pointed out little else has changed.

"Florida continues to have structural revenue problems. We have a very narrow tax base. We don't assess an income tax like most other states do. We have limitations on the revenues we can collect and the Legislature and the state leadership is very unwilling to consider new revenue sources.

Given that reality, VanLandhingham said the 3rd edition of the report has some suggestions that are practically - and politically - possible.

"The best path forward is to make better choices using evidence, which can help inform our choices. If we want to do something to reduce crime, what does the research show is the most effective ways of doing that? If we want to deal with educational challenges, let's use research to guide those choices. Because the research is clear that a lot of programs sound good when you hear about them from lobbyists or advocates; they sound wonderful, but when you test them rigorously and see what they're really achieving, they're not successful. They're not moving the needle in a meaningful way."

One example, said VanLandhingham, was the "scared straight" fad in the 1990s. Troubled teens were taken into jails and prisons where they heard tales of terror from inmates who warned the kids to avoid their mistakes. That program was a dismal failure. So the latest Collins Institute report analyzes three Florida state agencies using accepted research that shows what works.

"A ton of evidence has been collected on criminal justice programming and juvenile justice. So we looked at the Department of Juvenile Justice. A lot of evidence on what works in child welfare. We looked at where the Department of Children and Families is. And there's a ton of evidence about works on health, so we looked at whether the Department of Health is following an evidence-based track."

The results are exhaustive, but VanLandhingham said they can be summed up pretty succinctly.

"Each of these agencies is doing some good things. But the state as a whole, if you look at statewide policy, there isn't state policy to guide evidence use throughout the system. And other states have done some things far in advance of what Florida is doing."

So what can Florida do?

"We want agencies to come up with an inventory of all their programs and match that against the evidence base so we can see if we're funding stuff that works or not. And then moving more money over time towards those proven interventions. Setting up good monitoring and technical assistance networks to make sure those programs are done well. And then doing ongoing evaluation to see are there better ideas out there? Let's test them before we put them statewide, but let's keep building this evidence base."

The entire report is linked from the LeRoy Collins Institute website. Its author hopes it might attract the attention of state government leaders, especially as the Legislative Session draws ever closer.

Copyright 2021 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

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