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'Cost-Saving' Tourism, Commerce Department Merge Could Be Expensive

The Department of Tourism has been in the same building as Commerce since August 2015 at 900 N. Stiles Ave. in Oklahoma City. A proposal in the Legislature would formally consolidate the two agencies.
Brent Fuchs
/
The Journal Record
The Department of Tourism has been in the same building as Commerce since August 2015 at 900 N. Stiles Ave. in Oklahoma City. A proposal in the Legislature would formally consolidate the two agencies.

A state lawmaker wants to merge two of Oklahoma’s most visible agencies, but neither thinks it’s a good idea.

Last August, the Oklahoma Department of Tourism found itself homeless and moved in with the state Department of Commerce. Since then, they’ve decided to merge vehicle fleets, share some staffers and collaborate on marketing.

State Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, said he thinks a formal consolidation might save money. Leslie Blair, a spokeswoman for both agencies, told The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt things are going just fine:

Blair said both entities are doing what they can to save money. Tourism was forced to move out of the First National Center last year and took up residence at Commerce for $127,000 per year. Combining the agencies would require a consolidation of software, payroll and other systems that could cost at least $1 million, she said. Changing the agencies’ brands statewide would cost another $300,000. Some other costs are unknown. Although both agencies sell the state of Oklahoma to outsiders, Blair said, it’s done from different avenues. “We’re exploring all options because both agencies have had pretty significant budget cuts over the past few years,” Blair said. “We’re already working together. A forced consolidation isn’t going to save us any extra money.”

A committee adopted Loveless’ bill Monday, where it can now move on to the full Senate. State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said he’s heard reservations from the governor’s office, Denwalt reports:

The committee adopted the bill, but Loveless agreed to strike the title, a procedural move that allows it to move through the Legislature during negotiations. But it could not become law unless conflicts are resolved. Loveless said he knew there would be issues to work out. “That’s a good reason why we strike the title and show a good-faith effort between now and when it comes to the floor,” he said. “If we can’t show savings, then we don’t need to be moving it forward, because we’ll be basically wasting money.”

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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