Senate considers consultant’s $74 million proposed savings

State senators on Friday questioned whether Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration can deliver the $74 million in savings it is promising from the ideas of an outside consultant, and they bristled at some of the suggestions on the list.

Plans to close 18 Office of Motor Vehicles locations around Louisiana, limit ferry hours in Cameron Parish and consolidate transportation maintenance units were among the recommendations that hit resistance in the Senate Finance Committee.

The Jindal administration hired consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal under a $5 million contract to find ways to cut costs across state government through “efficiencies.”

About $74 million in savings expectations were included in the House-approved version of next year’s nearly $25 billion budget, though House lawmakers received little detail about what was included on the list.

Senators called in Cabinet secretaries Friday to explain each savings item planned for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“It’s nice to hear the global overview, but I think the concern we have is, can it be implemented?” said state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Breaux Bridge.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols defended the consultant’s hiring, saying the firm brought ideas from other states and national expertise. She said the work will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in savings over several years.

“It is actionable. It is real,” she said.

Plans include thinner asphalt for some paving projects, fewer toll-free numbers and expanded rehabilitation programs for inmates. Insurance policies will be changed for ferries and barges. Contracts for copiers will be consolidated.

But as senators picked through the list, complaints quickly emerged.

Generating the most criticism was a plan to save $2 million by closing 18 locations operated by the Office of Motor Vehicles, including in Oakdale, Donaldsonville, Bunkie, Kenner, Westwego, Mandeville, West Monroe, Sulphur, Golden Meadow and Eunice.

The closures would come even as wait times at OMV locations have shot up to as much as an hour and a half because of previous budget cuts.

State Police Col. Mike Edmonson, who oversees the motor vehicle office, said the agency is expanding a program using outside contractors to help handle driver’s license renewals.

But those contractors charge customers a fee of up to $18 per renewal.

State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, said if the Golden Meadow office closes, the closest OMV location for area residents would be more than an hour away.

“I think we really need to rethink that,” he said.

Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, wanted more conversation about the closures.

“It’s still up for discussion,” Edmonson said.

State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, objected to plans to shut down the ferry in Cameron Parish between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Sherri LeBas, state transportation secretary, said only 33 vehicles on average use the ferry during those hours and her department could save $346,000 next year with the nighttime shutdown.

But Johns said the 120-mile detour has raised public safety concerns with the sheriff and could cause problems getting to the one hospital in the parish during an emergency.

“If there was an alternative route, that’s one thing. We’d certainly understand that. But there’s not. There is no other lifeline,” Johns said.