The budget is the big issue when the legislature convenes next week, and the administration is placing heavy emphasis on GEMS initiatives.
“GEMS” is the acronym for Government Efficiencies Management Support”, which is the title of the efficiency report commissioned last year from the consulting firm of Alvarez and Marsal. Although the report wasn’t delivered till the very end of last year’s session, lawmakers were loudly skeptical of the cost of the contract to provide the report, and the savings promised by Alvarez and Marsal.
Legislative fiscal analyst Greg Albrecht still has doubts about the wisdom of the GEMS maneuver.
“We paid a company seven million dollars to come up with a book of ideas to do things we’re doing now — but do them for less money,” Albrecht says. “This is just cuts.”
Lawmakers remain dubious that GEMS initiatives are going to achieve needed savings. In pre-session meetings of the House Appropriations committee, Monroe Rep. Katrina Jackson has warned the administration she will be picking these GEMS apart.
“I want to make sure we’re putting real money in the budget,” Jackson said, requesting a department-by-department breakdown of each GEMS efficiency.
Some of the initiatives were implemented during the two rounds of mid-year budget cuts, yielding nearly $26-million in savings for state agencies, according to the Division of Administration. Other GEMS efficiencies are included in the budget proposal for this next fiscal year. These include further trimming of health care coverage through the Office of Group Benefits; selling off state-owned vehicles and equipment, and leasing those items instead; and having builders — not the state — carry their own risk insurance for capital outlay projects.
According to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, the GEMS savings will add up.
“Efficiencies from the GEMS initiative, both from FY 15 and FY 16, total $145-million,” Nichols said in presenting the executive budget.
State agencies are expected to save $48-million with GEMS in the next budget year.