Lawmakers continue to protest lack of information on agency mergers

 The agency consolidation is a foundational part of Governor Tom Wolf's 2017-18 budget plan. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

The agency consolidation is a foundational part of Governor Tom Wolf's 2017-18 budget plan. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Several House committees held the latest in a string of hearings Monday about Governor Tom Wolf’s plan to consolidate four state agencies.

Many lawmakers expressed the same concerns they’ve been voicing for weeks — they want more details before they make any decisions.The combination of the departments of Drugs and Alcohol, Aging, Human Services, and Health is considered the biggest agency merger the commonwealth has ever done.

Indiana County Republican Cris Dush voiced a common complaint — that it’s all moving way too fast.

“I voted for the budget hoping that we were going to have something solid to work with. We’re just over 70 days away from that thing right now, and I don’t have anything that I can place any confidence in,” he said.

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The hearing saw testimony from county commissioners, healthcare providers, and other who’d be directly impacted by the merger.

The county commissioners — who often oversee the administration of state services — offered recommendations that included a request for the new agency not to attempt to use a one-size-fits-all approach to providing services.  

Drug and Alcohol department advocate Gary Tennis also testified. Until recently he served as that agency’s secretary, and left because he opposed the plan.

He maintained that there’s no way some issues wouldn’t slip through the cracks in a merged department.

“A secretary of a behemoth agency isn’t going to have the time and energy — as good as Ted Dallas is, I don’t think anybody could possibly give the drug and alcohol issue the cabinet-level attention that I was able to give,” he said.

Legislation to make the merger happen hasn’t hit any committees yet, but it’s getting there.

Republican Representative Stephen Bloom of Cumberland County has issued a co-sponsorship memo for the House plan. Democratic Senator Judy Schwank of Berks County did the same on the Senate side.

The administration says the merger will save roughly $90 million, and rollout can begin in July — two-and-half months from now.

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