Rebecca M. Wyke— Commissioner of D A F S, balances the budget year after year

by Ramona du Houx

Rebecca M. Wyke, the commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS), balances the state budget year after year.

Holding the line on taxes has made the state stronger fiscally and more attractive to businesses searching for places to locate. When any governor sets his priorities for state workers to follow, there are always dramatic challenges that need to be met.

Rebecca Wyke is the miracle worker who turned around the $1.2 billion shortfall into a $149 million Rainy Day Fund, working with Governor Baldacci. Because of her dedication to implementing the governor’s policies, Maine has had the lowest growth rate of expenditures of any Maine state government in the last 30 years, making the state better suited for the future.

"Our goal is to help government to run efficiently and properly," said Commissioner Wyke.

Her role encompasses overseeing nine bureaus and over 1,400 employees serving the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, all State agencies, and the general public.

"The vast majority of my time is spent on developing budgets and managing budgets," said the commissioner. "In the first six months [with Governor Baldacci] we had a big charge, having to balance that $1.2 billion budget. We also put the first state-spending cap in place, that was later modified further by LD 1 and made a little bit tighter. The governor was also committed to ensuring that state dollars were expended in a way that meant that citizens were getting the most value for their tax dollars."

Wyke coordinates a number of central services for departments within Maine State Government by working in partnership with other state agencies. The bureaus she oversees are: The Maine Revenue Service, which collects the majority of revenues in the state; the state budget office, and the comptroller’s office, which ensures accountability of state government; the Bureau of Human Resources, which manages all of the state’s hiring of personnel and gives training courses for staff; the state’s Bureau of Employee Relations, which engages in collective bargaining with unions, or, if an employee is involved in some wrong doing, represents the state in those cases; the Bureau of General Services (BGS), which manages state buildings, including the repairs, maintenance, and renovations. BGS also buys and sells properties, constructs buildings with environmentally friendly standards, maintains the grounds, takes care of equipment and rental properties and the state’s fleet of motor vehicle, as well as other administrative services. In addition, DAFS is responsible for managing the State Lottery and the wholesale liquor business in Maine.

In short, Commissioner Wyke helps the core of state government to function efficiently and effectively, providing quality services to Maine citizens.

In the first six months after the governor was sworn in, Wyke completely reorganized the state comptroller’s office. "It was an antiquated paper-pushing function, which did payroll and things along that line. We reorganized the staff and found jobs through attrition for the folks that were not needed in that capacity and hired trained professionals, certified public accountants, certified auditors, to strengthen the state’s ability to oversee the finances of state government and improve the accountability of funds," said Wyke. "That was the groundwork that was laid. It allowed us to grapple with all the issues from the past that have turned up from the Department of Health and Human Services in terms of the accountancy issues; on a number of occasions we sent the personnel at the office of the comptroller to help the [DHHS] staff, and participated in the hiring and reorganization of that staff."

Wyke previously held several positions with the Department of the Secretary of State, most recently serving eight years as the chief deputy secretary of state. Prior to her state service, Wyke held a management position with Simoneau & Norton, certified public accountants. Wyke has two children and was happily married to the honorable Joseph W. Mayo who is remembered in the highest esteem by people in Maine for his tireless, dedicated service to the state.

"We created service centers as part of the governor’s efficiency measures, which combined information technology (IT) sectors from different departments. Prior to that every department had their own IT managers and staff. By consolidating those operations we were able to save, over this biennium, about $11 million," said Wyke.

Take the state’s natural resource agencies — they now have one common service center which saves money and helps eliminate work being duplicated.

Consolidation of services in any business makes practical sense. Wyke has brought a needed business sense and stability to state government. In business the customer demands good service — a service they can rely upon. These principles are now part of state government. Although it will take time for all these changes to take root, the seeds are sown and will be carefully monitored by Wyke and her staff.

"Ultimately, we were hoping to create career ladders for employees, so we could attract and retain good employees as we enter an era of a lot more competition from the private sector for qualified staff in those areas," said the commissioner. "It was also a means to ensure common training across the board — to try and improve state government across the board. In the end we are trying to put our best people where we need them, like any enterprise or business would."

Consolidation continues to be the key to running state government efficiently and is being encouraged by DAFS with the help of the grants. DAFS grants encourage innovative, collaborative efforts that result in property tax savings, efficiencies, or improved delivery of government services.

"These grant funds are intended to encourage and support cooperation across and along all lines of government and to foster relationships that will allow collaborations that benefit not only the participating governmental units, but also the citizens of Maine," said Wyke.

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The grant program also seeks to develop projects from which other Maine communities may learn and follow, as well as to explore innovative projects and partnerships that will serve models for the future.

This grant fund was implemented as part of the 2005 Property Tax Reduction Law, LD 1, to encourage and support intergovernmental cooperation, as a means of reducing property taxes. In 2006 the largest award, of $152,916, was given to a Lewiston/Auburn proposal to consolidate municipal administrative services and explore consolidation of other city operations.

In 2005, $1,000,000 in grant funds was distributed to 26 projects across the state involving over 121 municipalities. A wide range of projects was funded, from the consolidation of dispatch centers to the development of a municipal services group to provide shared staff among municipalities, including code enforcement, assessing, planning, engineering, and purchasing.

Commissioner Wyke deserves praise for being able to tackle a shortfall of over a billion dollars in a small state that doesn’t have access to a lot of funding. She stood by the governor’s directives and has been able to devise solutions year after year that balance the budget while ensuring Maine citizens remain safe and secure.

"This governor came in with several ideas that he wanted to see happen, that fell on this department to implement. With a $1.2 billion shortfall — the governor was very committed to ensuring that state government didn’t end up there again. Because of rather sever cuts that had to be made and the choices that had to be made at that time, he wanted to build an infrastructure that would improve upon that process," said Wyke. "He felt there should be a cap on spending on state government that would instill some discipline on government spending — so that government spending didn’t grow at a rate that was faster than Maine people’s income grew at."

That cap was achieved and more.

"We devised a formula where we would set aside reserves and buy down our long-term liabilities with the money that came in that was above what was appropriated by the Legislature," said the commissioner. "We constructed the state’s ‘cascade’ to tuck money away for the future when we needed it, to improve our reserve situation, because the state had zero reserves when the governor came into office, and we looked at how to buy down our long-term liabilities."

"The spending cap, combined with the way we designated reserves, allowed us to rebuild the reserves to within $5 million of their highest level ever — from $0 to $149 million. And we have made progress above and beyond our long-term liabilities for the state’s pension plans for teachers and state employees," said the commissioner.

Viewing where state government was financially four years ago to where it is today, because of the commissioner’s creative, diligent work, the next four years should see a progression on the efforts implemented and property tax relief, as the governor has prescribed.

"If we hadn’t laid that groundwork in the first six months, we would not be able to be where we are today. There is a lot more work to be done, and more challenges ahead, but from that perspective we feel pretty well positioned," concluded Wyke.