Monday, February 1, 2010

Weekly Opinion/Editorial

by Steve Fair

When Republicans won control of the Oklahoma State House in 2004 and the State Senate in 2008, critics said the GOP would struggle with ‘governing,’ because the Rs had been in the minority for so long. Understand that most of the criticism came from Democrats who had just lost the majority in the legislature and whose stellar ‘governing’ skills had the state mired at the bottom nationally in most economic categories, so you had to consider the source. In just six years, the Republicans in the state legislature have made significant progress by all pulling on the same end of the rope at the same time, but is that about to come to a standstill?
According to some sources, there is a rift between Senate Republicans and the Republican House leadership over the issue of property tax reform. Senator Jim Reynolds, (R-Oklahoma City) has introduced two measures dealing with property tax- one that would cap the annual increases at three percent, another at one percent. Reynolds joint resolution would put the issue on the state ballot in November for citizens to vote on. Sounds pretty reasonable, but thus far, Republican Speaker of the House Chris Benge, (R-Tulsa) has not allowed Reynolds bills to be voted on. Why has Benge not allowed a vote on the Joint Resolution? Because he knows it would pass the House overwhelmingly. Benge also knows the State Question would likely pass overwhelmingly if it makes it to the November ballot. Voters always vote for less taxes- that is a no-brainer. That is why Benge wants to try and keep the issue off the ballot.
Benge correctly states that property tax reform could cause less revenue to be available for government-, which includes schools, and county and state government services. “I just don’t think that the timing is good to reduce revenue,” Benge has said. The Speaker’s flawed reasoning starts when he says Oklahoma needs to wait until the economic climate is a little more palatable. Government never wants to go backward- it is constantly growing. That’s the nature of the beast. Representative David Dank, (R-OKC), has been vocal about Benge not allowing Reynold’s Joint Resolution to be voted on and has said Benge “needs to step up on this vital issue” by allowing the House to vote on it “or step down and let someone else lead the House to make it happen.” Benge came back swinging said that Dank was political grandstanding and being irresponsible. Dank and several others in the State House are not willing to pull on a rope that is going the wrong direction. Progress requires leadership that is not threatened when challenged.
There are several problems with Speaker Benge’s position on not allowing Reynold’s bill to be voted on in the House; First, if we do have government ‘by the people,’ then what is wrong with Reynold’s bill being voted on ‘by the people’ in the form of a state question? What is Benge afraid of? He may be right- it may not be the right time to cut revenue and government services in the Sooner state. There is certainly sufficient evidence Oklahoma taxpayers are doing fairly well vs. our counterparts across the country, but the argument and debate on this issue should be conducted in the public square and then let the voters decide for themselves if they want to continue under the current system or to force government to cut back.
Second, Republicans have historically stood for smaller, more efficient government. While the GOP has veered from that principle nationally in recent years, hopefully Republican state legislators will stay the course. Oklahoma state government is undoubtedly too big and wastes money- all government is, but that doesn’t mean ALL of Oklahoma government is wasteful. It is the job of the state’s elected officials to identify where waste exists and eliminate it. Until we have leadership that will work to do that, citizens will see little difference between Republican and Democrat leadership.
Our form of government was established as a republic- one which derives its power from the people. Unfortunately, too many elected officials mistakenly believe it is an oligarchy- a form of government in which power rests with a small elite segment of society. Those ruling elites believe they know what we need better than we do. They justify not letting people have a voice in their government, by saying the average citizen lacks sufficient knowledge to make an informed decision. The truth is voters sort it out pretty well most of the time and their track record is better than elected officials. The people know that cutting taxes will cut government and evidently Benge is unwilling to give them the option of expressing that opinion.


MuskogeePolitico said...

Technically, it wouldn't reduce revenue. Instead, it would reduce the percentage that their revenue will INCREASE every year.

Steve Fair is a political activist. said...

Jamison you are correct- Dank & Reynolds proposal would not cut taxes at all, but stop the mandatory 5% most county assessors are going up annually on property tax. Benge's argument is that county governments are struggling to make it now and to reduce their 'potential' funding by lowering the growth rate would be wrong in today's economical climate. He may be right, but a debate in the public square with the facts presented by both sides is the correct way to handle this- not by a sovereign decree from the Speaker of the House.

Thanks for your comments- you do a good work on your blog.