Monday, February 19, 2018
Weekly Opinion Editorial
OKLAHOMA’S BUDGET WOES CONTINUE!
by Steve Fair
Oklahoma’s budget woes continue and in the last week, a number of events occurred. On Monday February 12th, the Oklahoma House voted on the Step Up Oklahoma proposal. A $581 million dollar package of proposed tax hikes, if passed, it would have been the biggest tax increase in Oklahoma history. Passage required a 75% margin of victory, but Step Up fell 13 votes short and was defeated 63-35. 53 of the 72 Republicans in the State House voted for the bill and 10 of the 28 Democrats.
Before the vote, The Oklahoman reported that Sooner Poll had found 69% of likely voters supported the Step Up plan, which includes a $5,000 annual pay raise for teachers. Step Up Oklahoma commissioned the poll. Bear in mind those polled were read the following statement before being polled: Keep in mind that our state budget is still $100 million short and teachers have not been given an increase in pay since 2008 and the state is losing teachers to other states because teacher pay is the lowest in the region. This type of polling is known as ‘push polling,’ and results in skewed responses. Honest polling would likely not result in approval for the largest tax increase in Oklahoma history.
After the vote a Republican lawmaker called fellow legislators that voted against the increases, ‘the swamp,’ and called for them to draw primary opponents. There was a time when Republicans fought against tax hikes, stood for limited government and refrained from attacking fellow Republicans, but that day has ended. Name calling of fellow legislators- no matter what political Party- is inappropriate, unprofessional, and counterproductive. The offending legislator should publicly apologize.
On Friday, the 28 House Democrats held a press conference announcing as a caucus they support State Auditor Gary Jones’ plan to increase gross production tax to 5%, add 75 cents tax to cigarettes and increase tax on gas by 3 cents and on diesel by 6 cents. Jones, who is running for the GOP nomination for governor, was able to do something Republican legislative leaders and the governor haven’t been able to do- get the Democrats to support a plan that may give them past the 75% threshold required by SQ #640. It remains to be seen if Jones’ proposal makes it to the House floor. Also on Friday, ten Republican House members and former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn issued a press release saying they support performance audits on every state agency. They claim state government has a great deal of ‘bloat and mission creep.’ They also contend the recent increase in the price of oil has resulted in a stronger than expected revenue stream into state government and the proposed tax increases are unnecessary at this time.Two points: First, a state can’t tax itself to prosperity. Fostering a business friendly environment that promotes growth for existing businesses and relocation for new ones will lead to prosperity and take state government with it. Second, if these tax increases are supported by 2/3 of Oklahomans, then send them to a vote of the people. A simple majority is all that is required to raise taxes via state question
Monday, February 12, 2018
Weekly Opinion Editorial
AMERICA FIRST vs. NATION BUILDING
by Steve Fair
General Michael Hayden is a retired four-star Air Force general who served as Director of the National Security Agency and head of the CIA under Presidents Bush and Obama. Hayden spoke yesterday at the opening session of the National Grocers Association convention in Las Vegas. His 45 minute speech had three points: (a) This is not the most dangerous times that Americans have lived in (Cuban missile crisis, WWII), (2)America faces some immediate foreign threats, and (3) These are chaotic, confusing times in America foreign policy.
Hayden doesn’t appear to be a fan of President Trump, but repeatedly told the independent grocers that he was just ‘reporting the facts’ and letting them decide if America’s foreign policy strategy was the right one. His analysis of the threats: North Korea, Iran/Syria, and Russia were insightful. “We only have two choices in dealing with North Korea- either war or negotiation. Just before I came out on stage, I got a tweet saying Vice President Pence said the U.S. is willing to sit down with North Korea and talk. I think that’s good news,” Hayden said. In regards to Russia, he pointed out that Russia, a nuclear power, was not an economic one. “The GDP of Russia is less than the GDP of the state of California. Putin is trying to rally the Russian people to believe they are as powerful as they were when they were the USSR and that is simply not true,” the general said.
When asked by an audience member if he thought Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation would find Trump’s campaign taking a meeting with the Russians violated the law, Hayden said he thought Muller would find it to be ‘political malpractice,’(whatever that means) but not against the law.
Hayden did have an interesting observation regarding President Trump’s foreign policy. “The past 75 years, since WWII, America’s foreign policy has been about global inclusiveness. President Trump has changed that. With him, it’s America First. It is interesting that many of the people he has in his cabinet are globalists, but he is not. He has pulled out of trade agreements, the climate change agreement and has said he will pull out of the Iran agreement. While the Iran agreement is not as strong as it should be, it is better than no agreement at all,” Hayden said.
A tense moment in Hayden’s talk was when an audience member’s question, which had to be submitted on-line or via Twitter, asked him about his role in in intercepting calls between Americans and foreign telephones after 9/11- code name, Stellar Wind. Hayden contended the constitution allowed it because it didn’t rise to the level of ‘unreasonable,’ because of the threat to national security. He jokingly said former CIA director George Tenet thought Hayden would go to jail for violating the privacy of citizens, but said that Vice President Cheney told him he would bail him out.
Hayden was critical of the POTUS without being overt. While asked about Trump’s tweeting, Hayden said foreign government spies spend millions trying to know determine how a U.S. president thinks. “Our current POTUS gives them an ID every morning in 140 characters,” Hayden said. He said Trump’s brashness, while acceptable as a NYC real estate developer, isn’t appropriate as POTUS.Hayden is a globalist and clearly believes Trump is a threat to the globalist ideology. He may be right- give Trump eight years and he may unravel the post WWII/ nation building foreign policy that has been a disaster for America.
Sunday, February 4, 2018
Weekly Opinion Editorial
TRADITIONAL & CONVENTIONAL
by Steve Fair
Last Tuesday, President Trump delivered his second State of the Union speech. President Trump focused on jobs and the economy, infrastructure, immigration, trade and national security. Trump’s speech was more traditional and conventional- the best he has delivered since he was elected and here is why.
First, he refrained from personal insults and attacks in the speech. The POTUS has never missed an opportunity to hit at his critics. He doesn’t start the fight, but he never backs down. But at the SOTU he took the high road. No personal attacks- no heckling his critics-that’s refreshing.
Second, Trump has restored confidence among the U.S. business community. Predictability is important to business. Trump is very pro-business. He has removed many restrictive regulations that President Obama implemented that hurt businesses. That’s why Wall-Street is up +25% since Trump was elected. That impacts 401K and IRA plans for all Americans. Manufacturing is up in the U.S., African-American unemployment is at historic lows, and three million people have been given a bonus by their employers all because of predictability. The business community recognizes they have a POTUS that understands business unlike the previous administration and won’t regulate them to death,
Third, Trump has taken on the immigration issue. An issue that has been kicked down the road for the last thirty years, immigration is likely to be finally dealt with by Congress in the next year. But even before illegals are addressed, Trump has done something about immigration. Since he was elected, illegal crossings are down -25% at the US/Mexico border- their lowest level since 1971. Deportations are up +30% in the same period. During the campaign, Trump was adamant that he would build a wall to secure the border and has made it a cornerstone of his immigration policy. The White House has proposed a solution to dealing with the so-called ‘Dreamers’: a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million recipients and similarly situated immigrants, in exchange for $25 billion for the wall.
Fourth, Trump has done a good job in foreign policy. President Obama foreign policy was erratic and passive. Countries like North Korea and Iran broke treaties with the U.S., knowing they would face no repercussions. Rivals like China and Russia beat us at the negotiating table. Trump, and his foreign policy team, have put America’s interests first and America is now more respected around the world.
Make no mistake, President Trump is not perfect, but no president has ever been perfect. Trump is loud, bold, and arrogant. He likes controversy and actually seems to thrive on it, but no president in American history has been more an outsider in Washington than Trump. He likes the ‘rogue’ roll and seems to delight when the insiders tell him ‘that can’t be done that way because we’ve never done it that way.’ While the SOTU speech was more traditional and conventional than what you would expect from Trump, make no mistake, his is neither of those
Monday, January 29, 2018
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
Five of Oklahoma’s former governors have publicly endorsed the ‘Step Up Oklahoma’ plan put forth by civic and business leaders from across the state. Former Democrat governors Boren, Nigh, Walters and Henry along with Republican Keating unanimously praised the Step Up plan. Keating said, “Paralysis and dysfunction are not credible public policies. Revenue failures damage the credibility of our state. Step Up has thrown us a lifeline. The package deserves debate and a vote.”
While the current chief executive and five former Oklahoma governors may support the Step Up plan, it doesn’t appear any of the six Republicans seeking the job in November 2018 are joining them. Raising taxes is not a popular concept among GOP primary voters, so that is not surprising.
Gary Richardson said, “A much more appropriate title for this absurd plan would be ‘Pay Up Oklahoma.’ I’m shocked to see people calling themselves Republicans advocating for the largest tax increase in the history of Oklahoma.” Kevin Stitt, also Republican said, “I respect the business people who developed the Step Up Oklahoma package, but I do not believe an $800 million tax increase is the answer to fixing a broken state government.” Echoing Stit’s praise for the group, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said, “I don't want to mislead people into thinking that my first instinct when there's a budget issue is to raise taxes. That's not my history and it's not what we've done in Oklahoma City. I see where they are and I think it's a wise thing to do to put a lot of things out there and discuss it.” While Dan Fisher hasn’t publically said he opposes Step Up, it’s a cinch he does since he has former POTUS Calvin Coolidge’s quote on his website that says, “Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.” State Auditor Gary Jones agrees with some of the proposals, but opposes the lowering of the 75% supermajority needed to raise taxes by the legislature. “If they believe the revenue increase is necessary and can’t get to 75%, send it to a vote of the people where they can get it passed with a simple majority,” Jones said. Lt. Governor Todd Lamb told Payne County’s GOP organization that he opposes any tax increases, but supports the establishment of the Office of Budget Accountability and Transparency.
Keating is absolutely right- paralysis and dysfunction are not credible public policies. When conservative legislators refuse to compromise, pout and obstruct, more often than not the result is policy much worse than it has to be or no policy at all. Conservatives need to make sure they have a seat at the negotiating table and get something rather than nothing.The state legislature convenes next week and is expected to take up the Step Up tax increase plan. Supporters will claim our state’s reputation will suffer if citizens don’t pay more taxes, but the lack of resolve to find waste in state government hurts Oklahoma’s reputation more. Throwing money at government is not a lifeline, its endangerment.
Monday, January 22, 2018
Weekly Opinion Editorial
THE REAL STEP UP OKLAHOMANS
By Steve Fair
Last week, a nonpartisan group of business, civic and community leaders released the ‘Step Up Oklahoma’ plan. It includes a plan to stabilize state revenue, reform government to increase efficiency and cut abuse and to increase teacher pay by $5,000 per year. The Step Up website lists 85 people as supporters and it is a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ in Oklahoma. To see the list, go to stepupoklahoma.com.
Step Up has ten things they want addressed. They want to lower the super majority needed for the legislature to increase taxes from 75% to 60%. They want to create an Independent Budget Office to root out waste, fraud and abuse in government. They want to increase the amount of time a lawmaker can serve from 12 to 16 years. They want to make the Governor in Oklahoma more powerful and have the Lt. Governor and Governor run on the same ticket. They also want to create a Budget stabilization Fund which would protect against budget downturns like Oklahoma government has seen the last couple of years.
First, much of what Step Up Oklahoma is proposing must be voted on by the people. The state legislature can’t repeal SQ #640 without a vote of the people. They can’t change term limits without a vote of the people. They can’t have the Governor and Lt. Governor run on the same ticket without a vote of the people. They can’t reorganize county government without a vote of the people.
Second, why do we need to establish another state agency to root out fraud and waste when we have a constitutional office now? Step Up’s idea of the Independent Budget Office controlled by the Governor deliberately circumvents the office of Oklahoma State Auditor & Inspector, who is elected by the people. A better solution would be to dramatically increase the scope and power of the Auditor’s office instead of adding another state agency that reports to the Governor.
Third, Step Up seems more intent on raising revenue than right sizing government. They want to increase gross production tax, income tax, cigarette tax, and gasoline tax. These are the same revenue proposals Governor Fallin has failed to get passed, but Step Up has repackaged them with community and business leader’s support.Oklahoma has 101 House members and 48 Senate members charged with balancing the budget each year. That is their job. While anyone has a right to lobby for any cause anytime, it appears this group didn’t just happen. It clearly was organized by elected officials to lobby for more taxes. Many of the 85 Step Up supporters wrote campaign checks to those 149 legislators they are now pressuring to vote for their proposals. It will be interesting to see if the Oklahoma legislature will bow to the pressure from the donor class. If Step Up is successful, the unemployed and underemployed in Oklahoma will be the ones that will have to step up and pay more taxes.