The centerpiece of Governor Tom Wolf’s 2017-18 budget proposal is an ambitious plan to consolidate four major state agencies: the departments of Human Services, Health, Aging, and Drugs and Alcohol.
The administration says the move will increase efficiency and save $90 million next year.
But lawmakers have questioned those savings in hearings, and say consolidation may only increase bureaucracy, not reduce it.
The most adamant opposition comes from one of the smaller affected agencies—the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
When Wolf first announced his combination plan, it created immediate shockwaves—many stemming from the sudden departure of Drug and Alcohol Secretary Gary Tennis.
“In the 30 years that I’ve been involved and working around state government, this is about the worst and most deadly mistake I’ve ever seen,” Tennis said of the planned merger.
He refused to support it, arguing it would cripple his agency and make it less able to fight the opioid epidemic. He was fired, and has since become something of a leader for the anti-consolidation activists, who held a raucous rally Wednesday in the Capitol.
Meanwhile, the House has passed its own GOP-led budget proposal that includes Wolf’s consolidation plan. That was enough for Republican Gene DiGioralmo, Bucks County representative who chairs the Human Services Committee, to break ranks and oppose it.
“I was one of the four Republicans who voted no, because the outline of the consolidation plan was in the budget, and I was just not going to go along with that,” he said.
GOP leaders say inclusion of the consolidation plan is still up for negotiation.
On top of combining the agencies, the Republican spending plan includes deep cuts to many associated programs.