Monday, March 23, 2015

Get Government out of the Collection Business!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
Get Government out of the Collection Business!
by Steve Fair
     HB # 1749, authored by Rep. Tom Newell, (R-Seminole), has passed the State House and is eligible to be voted on in the full Senate this week.  If passed and signed into law, HB 1749 would prevent Oklahoma state government and school districts from collecting union dues for public unions or associations.  The bill passed the state House 59-39.  It passed the General Government senate committee 4-3 after Senator Nathan Dahm, (R-Tulsa) struck the title on the bill, meaning it would have to be voted on by the full Senate at least twice before approval. 
     Not surprising, the Oklahoma Education Association said they were ‘deeply disappointed’ the bill got out of the Senate committee.  “This bill is, without a doubt, an attempt to silence the members of the Oklahoma Education Association," said OEA President Linda Hampton.  "In supporting this bill, legislators are saying they are sick of teachers telling them about the needs of Oklahoma's public schools and their students.  We have real education issues to focus on in this state, and despite HB 1749, we will keep working to do what's best for Oklahoma's students. I hope our legislators will do the same."
     The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, released this statement: Currently, taxpayer dollars are automatically deducted from many state employee paychecks and funneled to government unions that pass on a portion of the funds to political groups that support liberal causes like gun control, abortion, and government-run health care. State government should not prop up political interest groups.”  Three thoughts:
     First, unions are a microcosm of society.  Most people in America aren’t really tuned into politics and  most union members are not tuned into the politics of their union.  They join the union because when they got the job, they were convinced by a union steward of the benefits of being in the union.  That usually included some pension, insurance, or personal benefit.  There is a great deal of peer pressure to join the union.  The vast majority of union members don’t realize that a substantial percentage of their union dues go to support liberal political causes.  Based on recent voting trends, it is apparent most Oklahomans, including union members, are politically conservative.  Their unions are out of touch with their values. 
     Second, most of the union PACs have a long history of supporting liberals and liberal causes.  In 2013, a then VP of the OEA said second amendment supporters were ‘going to go to hell.’  The teacher unions (NEA, OEA) have a long history of supporting abortion on demand, gay marriage, and bans on assault weapons.  Most union membership doesn’t realize what their union PAC is supporting, but if HB 1749 becomes law, a union member will have to write a check ‘directly’ to the union.  I guarantee they would become more aware of how their money was being spent.  The OEA knows that and they don’t want their conservative membership to voice their opinion.  HB 1749 threatens the OEA and the other public union’s gravy train.  If passed into law, unions would no doubt lose conservative members and that means less money to support liberal causes and candidates.    
     Third, Oklahoma taxpayers are paying the bill for this government provided collection service.  This should incense every Oklahoma taxpayer.  It costs a state government agencies and school districts money to collect union dues and send the money to the unions.  Every dime of that administrative cost is paid for by Oklahoma taxpayers.  The unions don’t reimburse the government the cost to collect the dues.  The current system has Oklahoma taxpayers subsidizing the unions.
      In the early days of colonial America, the government collected the tithes of church members and sent the money to the church.  When independence was achieved, that was a service promptly discontinued.  Rep. Newell, a pastor, pointed that fact out during debate on HB 1749.  Government shouldn’t be in the collection business for any religious group, association, union or cause- liberal or conservative.  This is a good bill patterned after the Wisconsin bill championed by Governor Scott Walker.  Contact your state legislator today and ask them to support HB 1749.

Monday, March 16, 2015

SOUNDING BRASS OR A TINKLING CYMBAL!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

     HJR 1025 authored by Speaker Jeff Hickman, (R-Fairview) passed the State House last week.  If it is approved by the State Senate, the measure will be placed on the ballot in November 2016.  HJR 1025 would prohibit former legislators from going to work for any state agency until July 1 of the year immediately following their leaving office.  The current statute prohibits an Oklahoma state lawmaker from taking a job with the state until two years have elapsed from their leaving office.  A couple of observations concerning Speaker Hickman’s proposal;
     First, Hickman’s bill does plug the current ‘loophole’ several former legislators have crawled through.  At least three former Republican legislators went to work for state agencies before the two year period had expired because their salary was not being funded with ‘legislature appropriated’ dollars.  The Attorney General issued an opinion the law wasn’t technically being broken, because their salary wasn’t coming from money given to the agency by the legislature, but that dog won’t hunt.  While they may ‘technically’ be within the bounds of the law, it is clear the spirit of the law was to provide a two year ‘cooling off’ period for former legislators.  Hickman’s proposal would close that loophole.  No matter how the job was funded- appropriated money or otherwise- a former state legislator would have to wait basically a year and a month to go to work for the state.
     Second, Hickman’s proposal reduces the amount of time a former legislator has to wait before they go to work for the state.  As mentioned above, the current prohibition period is two years.  Hickman’s proposal would slice that almost in half.  Is that an improvement?  Does the prohibition need to be two years?  Are state government agencies so desperate for labor they need the cooling off period to be shortened?  Fact is, many former legislators wind up lobbying their former colleagues, either as a private lobbyist or a taxpayer funded lobbyist (don’t get me started on the absurdity of a taxpayer funded lobbyist) before two years. 
     Third, why is it that so many former legislators wind up working for the state or lobbying?  Can they just not get a job in the private sector?  Have they become so engrained into the good-ole-boy political system they believe the only way they can provide for their families is to stay engaged at some level in politics?   In Oklahoma, we have former elected officials are college presidents, state agency heads, and cabinet members.  Others are now county elected officials.  Precious few go back into the private sector.  The plow doesn’t fit their hand anymore.  The irony is many of these former legislators who go to work for the state after they leave office railed on the size of government during their campaigns and proclaimed they were ‘citizen legislators’ when they were running for office.  Sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.   
     We so need citizen legislators and elected officials.  In 450 BC, Cincinnatus was a Roman citizen and a humble farmer.  He was elected to the Roman Senate, served his term and then went back to farming.   In 458 BC, Rome was in a war with Sabines and a group of Roman Senators were sent to Cincinnatus to ask him to serve as Emperor/Commander-in-Chief.  He consented, led the army into a successful battle, ended the war and returned to his farm- all in the period of fifteen days.  In 439 BC, he was once again summoned to duty, this time to squelch a coup.  He did his duty and returned to the plow.  Cincinnatus became a legend in Rome, simply he understood that politics was merely a means to an end- not the end.  He wasn’t a career politician.  George Washington is often compared to Cincinnatus because after leading the colony army, Washington also refused the opportunity to become the superior ruler/king of the United States, also retiring to a farm.  
Speaker Hickman’s proposal closes the ‘appropriated money’ loophole that is being abused by former legislators.  Quite frankly that is more important than the length of the cooling off period.  Contact your state senator and encourage them to support HJR 1025.

Monday, March 9, 2015

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES!
by Steve Fair

     Bills to call for an Article 5 ‘convention of the states,’ have now passed both the State House and State Senate committees.  The Senate version- SJR 4- is authored by Sen. Rob Standridge, (R-Norman).  The House version is HJR 1018 authored by Rep. Gary Banz, (R-Midwest City).  They now head to the floor for a vote in their respective chambers. 
     Last week, the NFIB, Oklahoma branch, released the results of a poll of their four thousand plus members in Oklahoma that showed overwhelming support for a ‘balanced budget’ amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  According to the NFIB state director Jerrod Shouse, the association sends a ‘ballot’ to their membership each year asking about specific issues.  “We don’t try to point the membership to a certain position.  We attempt to gauge the membership’s position on issues and act accordingly.” 
     First, I support small independent business.  I am employed by an independent business, but I’m absolutely certain the NFIB Oklahoma members polled were supporting a ‘balanced budget amendment’ first without understanding the underlying vehicle to achieve it- the Article 5.  The vast majority of Americans have no clue about what an Article 5 convention is.  That is not being condescending.  It is just a fact.  Even those who have studied and read Article 5 must admit the process is somewhat ambiguous.   So polling results from business owners concerning fiscal issues would reflect strong support for the government to ‘live within their minds.’  That’s not surprising. 
      Second, an Article 5 is an untried, unproven way to amend the Constitution.  I’m not saying it wouldn’t work perfectly, just like those pushing the Article 5 claim it would, but I am skeptical.  Why?  Because anytime you get Congress engaged in anything, it rarely turns out the way it was expected to turn out.   If Congress decides to allocate delegates to the convention of states by population, then Oklahoma and the smaller states will have less influence in the process.  The more populous states are liberal, so they would control the agenda and the convention because they would have more delegates.  .  Even the advocates for an Article 5 must admit they are shooting into the dark when they talk about the parameters, restrictions of a convention of the states.  No one knows definitely what would happen, because America hasn’t had a ‘convention of the states since the first Constitutional Convention in 1787.  
     Third, Unintended Consequences!  Anyone who is familiar with government knows those two words all too well.  As Nancy Pelosi famously said, “we have to pass it to find out what is in the bill.”  All too often legislative bodies pass a bill expecting it to do a certain thing, but in effect it does the opposite or it produces ‘unintended consequences.’  Some of the unintended consequences are errors and failure to see the true effects.  Other unintended consequences are the result of calculated strategy by unscrupulous people, who know they can’t tell you what will really happen because they know it wouldn’t be approved.
     A classic example of unintended consequences in Oklahoma is SQ 676, which was overwhelmingly approved by Oklahoma voters in 1996.  The proposal read in part, “This measure would limit the fair cash value of real property for property tax purposes. The fair cash value would not increase by more than 5% in any taxable year.”  Oklahoma citizens were told the change would rein in ‘loose cannon’ county assessors across the Sooner state that were assessing taxes with no statutory guidelines or legal restraint. The proposal was supposed to give them a ceiling increase or maximum increase in property tax of no more than five (5) percent per year.  County assessors interrupted it to mean they were mandated to go up 5% a year until they got to within 5% of the actual fair cash value.  Attorney General Drew Edmondson agreed with the assessors and Oklahoma property owners have been paying for those ‘unintended consequences’ for nearly 20 years.  
     The advocates for the Article 5 could be right.  A ‘convention of the states’ could result in a balanced budget amendment and help get America back on track fiscally or it might result in a runaway convention full of unintended consequences, like the dismantling of the Bill of Rights.  I for one am not willing to take that risk, considering that Congress is involved in the process.  Contact your state Representative and state Senator and urge them to oppose HJR 1018 and SJR 4 when they come up for a vote on the floor.

Monday, March 2, 2015

LINE UP BEHIND ISRAEL

Weekly Opinion Editorial
LINE UP BEHIND ISRAEL!
 by Steve Fair
     On May 14, 1948, the United States, under President Harry Truman, became the first country to extend any form of recognition to the State of Israel.  A year later, the U.N. recognized Israel as a nation in a General Assembly vote.  The land modern day Israel currently occupies was once an area called Palestine.  For more than 1200 years the dominate population there was Arabic.  Starting in the late 1880s, steady stream of Jews from throughout the world begin to migrate to the area, buying up land from the Arabs.  After about 50 years, they formed a nation and petitioned the United Nations to be recognized by the world as a nation.  The United States led the battle to get Israel recognized.
Israel has long been America’s friend and the U.S. has had Israel’s back. 
     Throughout the years, no matter what political Party was in power in the U.S., Israel has been one of America’s strongest allies.  Presidents of both parties have welcomed the Prime Minister of Israel onto our soil as one an honored guest, but that day has gone.   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in America and President Barrick Obama has no plans to meet with him.  Netanyahu addressed Congress yesterday at the invitiation of Speaker John Boehne, with Vice President Joe Biden and a number of Democrats boycotting the speech. 
     Netanyahu is concerned about a potential nuclear deal the Obama administration is working on with Iran.  He says the deal threatens the survival of Israel.  "Iran envelops the entire world with its tentacles of terror,” Netanyahu said.  He warned lawmakers that Iran would most certainly pursue Israel's destruction if it obtained a nuclear weapon.  “We must not let that happen,” he said.
     On Monday, Senator John McCain, (R-Ariz), said this is the worse he has ever seen the U.S.-Israel relationship in his tenure in the Senate.  Oklahoma U.S. Senator James Lankford, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said, “I am pleased that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address Congress and meet with a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders,” said Lankford. “America has no closer friend in the world than Israel. During a time of considerable unrest in the Middle East, we must work with and hear from our ally, Israel. Washington must strengthen our friendship with Israel, especially as our two countries work to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons.”
     Secretary of State John Kerry is opening a new round of talks with Iran in Switzerland on a possible deal on nuclear capability with Iran.  Susan Rice said the U.S. was seeking a deal that would cut off "every single pathway" Iran has to producing a nuclear weapon. She said President Obama is keeping all options on the table for blocking Tehran's pursuit of a bomb and declared that "a bad deal is worse than no deal." Three thought about this important subject:
     First, America better stop abandoning their friends.  America’s foreign policy is non-existent.  President Obama has destroyed any creditability America had in the world, by talking big and doing nothing.  No third world dictator takes his threats seriously and that puts our fighting men and women in damage.  You have to talk softly and carry a big stick as Teddy Roosevelt said.  The Middle East has always been a hotbed, but it has not been this hot in years and if you throw a nuke in the middle of that, we’re looking at WWIII.
     Second, why are we negotiating with a nation that sponsors terrorism?  And is a bad deal worse than no deal?  Those are timely questions. Iran has publically said they want to destroy America.  If they get nukes, they will use them.  Do we really think we can trust them in negotiations?  And a bad deal is very often worse than no deal.  To say something that na├»ve is mindboggling, particularly when it is coming from a senior administration official. 
      Third, America better stay on the side of Israel.  The Jews are God’s chosen nation.  It’s in the scripture.  Does Israel do everything right?  Not by a far sight, but Israel is going to survive and if America wants to survive, we better line up behind them.

Monday, February 23, 2015

It's Your Money!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     State Representative Jason Nelson, (R-OKC), and State Senator Clark Jolley, (R-Edmond) have introduced legislation to create Education Saving Accounts in Oklahoma that would allow parents to provide state money to seek alternatives to a public school education for their children even if the children do not have disabilities.  If passed, the state would have to deposit money for a child into the ESA based on family income and on how much money the public schools currently get for the child attending a public school.  Money in the account could be used for accredited on-line education, private schools or home schooling.  The monies could also be used to pay for textbooks, tutoring, and achievement tests. Two states, Florida and Arizona, already have similar programs.
      Rep. Nelson said that parents should be the ones making the decision on how their kids should be educated.  “There are parents all over the state who are just as desperate for their child to have a future but their limit is the school where they live, or the opportunities within that school,” Nelson said.
     The Senate version of the bill-SB #609- passed the Senate Education committee last Monday and now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Jolley chairs.  The Senate version would give parents a debit card with 80% of the amount that goes to the public schools on it.  Parents could use the money to home school their kids or to pay tuition to a private school.  If monies were left over, they could be applied toward the student’s college education. “It gives parents a choice rather than maintaining a monopoly,” Jolley said. 
     Not surprisingly, the public school community opposes the legislation.  Shawn Hime, Oklahoma State School Boards Association executive director said, “We are 100 percent opposed to it.  We spent a lot of time over the past decade talking about accountability and transparency of taxpayer dollars. This voucher proposal will also significantly decrease per pupil revenue for schools. They will pay for private and home school students that had never been a part of the public school funding system.  Now we want to set up a parallel system where taxpayer dollars can be spent for home school students and private school students that have no accountability.
    Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said “The problem is, if you take money away from the public school, even if you take one child out, you still have to pay the teacher, the electric bills, and run buses. You’ve still got all the expenses, but now you have less money. It may be called a savings account or a scholarship, but that’s putting lipstick on a pig,  It’s really just a school voucher program.”
    It’s time to give the people of Oklahoma true school choice.  Here are three reasons why.
    First, it’s their money.  It is not the legislature’s money.  It is not the public school’s money.  It is the taxpayer’s money.  In a poll conducted last July among 600 Republican voters statewide, 64% favored the creation of Education Saving Accounts.  That means that a clear majority of Oklahomans favor letting parents decide where their education dollar is spent.  In response to an inquiry from Capital Beat Oklahoma as to why she opposes Nelson’s bill, State Representative Ann Coody, (R-Lawton), who chairs the House Education Committee said, I believe that tax dollars should fund public schools.  Tax dollars do not belong to legislators but to the citizens of Oklahoma.  We are charged with representing our constituents to the best of our ability and according to the principles in which we believe.” 
     Second, public education is not putting out a good product.  That doesn’t mean we have bad teachers or even bad administrators.  It just means we have an inefficient, antiquated education model  in Oklahoma.  We have too many school districts.  We have too many buses and buildings, and electric bills. No one- educators, legislators, school boards- want to confront the elephant in the room, but at some point, it has to be addressed.  Spending for common education in Oklahoma has steadily increased in the past twenty years with no discernible improvement in student test scores.  That is because Oklahoma spends 52 cents of every common education dollar on non-classroom related activities.      
     Third, neither of the bills would significantly impact the per pupil revenue funding for schools.  Property tax revenue would still go to the local school district.  What would change would be the total amount a district gets from the state.  That would present a hardship to school districts who want to do the same thing they have done since 1950, but giving parents control of where their education dollar is spent will produce a better public school that will have to compete in the education marketplace.  That is how it works in the real world.