Stump speeches: Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh on Right-sizing the government

Twinkle Cavanaugh

Public Service Commissioner Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh has served on the commission since 2010. While the focus of the commission is regulated industries, Cavanaugh has gone and beyond the call of duty in reevaluating the cost to taxpayers of running commission as a whole.

While on the stump running for Lieutenant Governor, she is highlighting more than just the work at the commission has done in dealing with consumer protections, she’s also highlighting her efforts to “Right Size” government.

We offered Chairman Cavanaugh the opportunity to tell our readers a little more about these efforts and here’s what she had to say:

The first thing I did after being sworn in was grab my red pen and start looking for fat to trim from the commission’s budget. As a small-business owner, I know the value of a dollar and what it feels like to tighten our belts. Alabama’s state budgets were stretched thin during this time. This was during the Great Recession and the slow and painful recovery from it. Families all over Alabama were sitting around the kitchen table hoping they’d have some decent meals to share together.

When I grabbed the reins of the PSC, we had 119 employees. I undertook a careful analysis and learned we could do the same job, probably better than ever before, if we sharpened our staff and reduced the headcount. Without firing a single employee, the PSC now has 72 employees, down more than 39% from when I got there. As employees retired or took other positions outside of the commission, we reorganized, retrained, reduced our numbers, and remained laser focused on making sure the commission continued its inspections and regulatory functions without missing a beat. We are now saving nearly $2.6 million annually because of the rightsizing of our staff, without sacrificing our pipeline and railway safety duties.

Public servants must lead by example. When I got to the PSC, it looked like that episode of Oprah where she gave the entire audience a new car. We had 59 cars – essentially one car for every two employees. The very first decision I made at the PSC was to tear up the paperwork for the car the commission wanted to assign to me. I had my own personal car, and I didn’t need the taxpayers giving me another one for free. Then I started getting rid of every single car at the commission that wasn’t absolutely needed.   I got rid of three out of every five cars the PSC had in its fleet.   We went from 59 cars down to 24. Now, the only employees who are assigned cars are those who have daily responsibilities requiring daily travel, like the employees in Gas Pipeline Safety. We also retained a very small pool of cars that can be checked out by employees who absolutely must travel for state business.

As you can imagine, as we reduced the headcount in the building, more and more offices were sitting dark and empty and collecting dust.  In 2014, I looked into the possibility of moving the entire commission into another building to save money, but I found we could save even more money by merely reducing the amount of space we rent in our current building. Again, leading by example, I reduced my personal office space by 65% and then reduced our commission’s overall office space by 38%.

Finally, I put the brakes on employees traveling on the taxpayers’ dime. Since I arrived in 2010, out-of-state travel expenses have been cut by 74% and in-state travel has been cut by 70%. The commission still continues to travel to necessary functions, but the days of frivolous trips taken by previous commissions are over.

I’m proud of my work over the last seven years. I work with great commissioners and employees who are as dedicated as any public servants and employees I’ve ever known.  I’ve asked a lot of them as we’ve trimmed the fat in our budget and slashed expenses by 32% – or $3.2 million annually. Every dollar we save at the PSC allows the state legislature to appropriate those dollars to other areas of need.  As a result, our savings at the PSC help keep taxes and fees as low as possible in Alabama.

I want other agencies to follow our lead, examine their budgets line by line, and substantially trim the fat. Every dollar sent to the government was earned by the blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice of an Alabamian who should trust us to use it wisely. And my faith tells me to be a good steward of money, particularly when I’m managing other people’s money. There is no higher calling in public service than keeping a careful watch over every single dollar sent to the government.  Ultimately, we owe it to each Alabamian to carefully examine the use of those dollars and cut expenses anywhere and everywhere possible.”

Amount sent to the General Fund

  • 2009 – $3.8 million (year before I got into office) 2018 – $13 million

PSC Operating Expenses

  • 2010 – $9.9 million
  • 2017 – $6.7 million

The positions or interpretations set forth in this statement are those of Commissioner Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh and do not reflect the official position of the Commission.