Monday, December 11, 2017

LET THE AUDITOR DO THEIR JOB!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
UNCHAIN THE WATCHDOG!
by Steve Fair

     The Oklahoma State Department of Health is responsible for protecting the health of all Oklahomans and providing other essential service.  It serves as the primary public health protection agency in the state.  It has a budget of $380 million annually and has over 2,000 staff.  It is headed by the Secretary of Health, an appointee of the Governor.    The State Board of Health is the governing body of the Health Department. The Board is composed of nine members appointed by the Governor with the approval of the Senate.  Each Board member serves a nine-year term. Eight of the nine members represent specific county regions of the state and one member is appointed to represent the state at large.  Dr. Terry Cline led the agency from 2009 until his recent resignation when it was discovered the department had a $30 million dollar shortfall. 
     First, the Department of Health is first and foremost responsible for this irresponsibility.  If someone is determined to be dishonest, it’s not easy to catch them, but the department had an Office of Accountability Systems that coordinated audits, an internal auditor, and a nine member board, yet none caught the overspending.  It appears the agency was using federal funds in areas they weren’t supposed to, which may require the state to have to reimburse the feds for the misuse.  This cover-up had to be known by more than just a few mid-level staffers and hopefully those people will be exposed.    
      Second, the Office of Management & Enterprise Service, which handles the state’s finances, should have caught it.  OMES has direct oversight of the Health Department.  They employ budget analysts who monitor how agencies are transferring money and if monies are being spent as they are designated to be spent.  This had been going on for years under the oversight of OMES. 
    Third, the Auditor’s office would likely have caught the shortage years ago if a comprehensive audit on the agency had been requested.  The State Auditor & Inspector doesn’t have the authority to do a comprehensive, performance audit on state agencies without being asked by either the Governor or the Speaker and the Senate pro Temp. That needs to change.       
           To avoid this happening again, citizens need to give the Auditor’s office power to audit.  In the past seven years, because of politics, the legislature and the Governor have circumvented the constitutionally created office of State Auditor & Inspector by creating auditing commissions that report directly to them.  They have cut the Auditor’s budget by 35% in both appropriations and manpower.  The result has been the Health Department fiasco and who knows how many other agencies are doing the same thing. We have the state watchdog chained.
 

Monday, December 4, 2017

POLITICS IS THE REASON WE ARE WHERE WE ARE!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
DYSFUNCTIONAL
STATE GOVERNMENT!
by Steve Fair
     How did Oklahoma state government get so dysfunctional?  Just 4 years ago, Oklahoma was riding high.  The price of oil was $100 a barrel and state government was flush with money.  Now with the price less than half that, state government is struggling to pay the bills.  After one special session failed, to give the Governor the funding she wanted, it appears she may call a second to address the budget shortfall.  Here are some of the theories as to how we got to this point:
     State Question #640:  Some lawmakers and private citizens believe that SQ #640 places too high of a threshold to raise taxes.  It requires any revenue raising bill to pass the legislature with a ¾ majority.  It doesn’t prevent the raising of taxes or fees- it just makes it harder to achieve.  Some lawmakers have vowed to work to repeal it (would require a vote of the people), but  SQ #640 has been a saving grace for Oklahomans through the years.  Before #640, the Democrat controlled legislature raised taxes every year as government continued to grow.  #640 is definitely not the reason we have a dysfunctional state government.
     Legislative Term Limits: Critics of term limits say citizens have always have term limits because elected officials could always be voted out at the ballot box. The fact is 95% of incumbents win.  Opponents of terms limits also maintain we lost the ‘institutional knowledge’ long serving lawmakers had and the bureaucrats would gain power under term limits.  There is some truth to both those theories, but term limits is not the reason we have a dysfunctional state government.
          Price of Oil:  Oklahoma state government is so dependent on gross production tax that when the price of oil declines, so does funding.  There has been ongoing discussion for years to change that, but not the political will to execute it.  But the price of oil is not the reason we have a dysfunctional state government.
     Politics: For years, grassroots Republicans thought that electing a GOP legislature would result in smaller more efficient government, but that hasn’t been the case.  Because of politics, performance audits conducted by the State Auditor have been limited.  There has not been an audit of Higher Education in years and the acceptance of State Agency heads they had ‘cut to the bone’ is not questioned.  Personalities and politics rule the day.  Performance and pursuance are kicked like a can down the road. 
     Politics is the reason we have a dysfunctional state government.  Simply stated, Republicans are electing the wrong people to represent us at 23rd and Lincoln.  Many lawmakers don’t understand the issues when they get there and are then educated by special interests.  When you couple that with the fact the GOP infrastructure is crumbling and grassroots activists at the local level are discouraged and disgusted by the people they worked to elect and you get the current situation.   How do you fix it?    You don’t fix it by quitting- you double down and work twice as hard to get the government you want

Sunday, November 26, 2017

If candidates were green beans, campaigns would be more honest!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
Caveat Suffragator
by Steve Fair

     In a free market capitalist economic system, supply and demand rules.  Individuals or companies develop and price products to appeal to a market.  If the demand is high, the price increases.  If demand is low, the price decreases.  The political system is much the same way- candidates create an image that will appeal to their market- the voters.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be reality based.  Pragmatic candidates view values and convictions secondary to getting votes and winning.  Making false claims about themselves or their opponent is acceptable, but that wouldn’t work if a political candidate were a can of green beans.
     The Federal Trade Commission requires that all advertisements must be truthful, fair and free of misleading representation. All claims in advertising must be substantiated with solid proof.  The Federal Trade Commission has a Deception Policy Statement that describes an advertisement as deceptive if a misleading feature of the ad sways a consumer into purchasing or using the product or service. This definition also applies to information that is deliberately omitted or withheld from the consumer that affects purchase decisions. To determine if an ad is deceptive, the FTC considers both direct and implied claims in the context of the ad.   That is why you don’t see as many ‘comparison claims’ on consumer products that you saw in decades past.  Exaggerating the features of your product while downplaying the competition’s features became next to impossible to prove, so most consumer product companies abandoned the old ‘we’re better than brand x’ strategy.  But the strategy is alive and well in politics.
      In a study conducted by the Washington Examiner they found that 90% of the political ads in the 2016 presidential general election were attacking the opponent, not extolling the virtues of the candidate.  Their study found that both Trump and Clinton ads were of the attack variety.   Both campaigns were equally guilty.  They spent most of their time and money trying to convince voters their opponent was bad and therefore by default they were good.  Sadly, those same tactics have wormed their way down to local politics.  Candidates for state legislature and county offices often succumb to ‘comparison’ campaigning pieces, attacking or downright lying about their opponent’s positions.  They often include in the same piece, a family picture and a resume of their sainthood.  It’s hypocritical and should be illegal.  If the FTC were in charge of campaign claims, a large percentage of politicos would be paying fines for misleading advertising. 
     Caveat emptor is a Latin term that means ‘let the buyer beware.” It means that goods are sold ‘as is’ and the buyer assumes the product may fail to meet expectations or have defects.  In politics it should be Caveat suffragator, Latin for ‘let the voter beware.”  When elected officials lie to win, is it no wonder, voters are often disappointed when they fail to meet expectations?   The election claims of candidates should at least be as truthful as the claims of ramen noodles.
 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Legislative Pay Cut Was For Optics, Not Savings!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

Legislative Pay is not the Problem!
by Steve Fair
   

     The Oklahoma legislative compensation board is a nine member panel that meets the third Tuesday of each odd numbered year to review state legislative compensation.  The Governor appoints five of the nine members, the Speaker of the House two members and the President pro tempore of the Senate two members.  There are specific qualifications for the members to insure a cross section of Oklahomans.  The Director of State Finance and the Chairman of the Oklahoma Tax Commission serve as non-voting members of the board.  For the past sixteen years, the board hasn’t adjusted-up or down- the salaries of the 149 legislators, but this year the board narrowly voted 4-3 to reduce the base salary of a state legislator from $38,400 to $35,021 annually, an 8.8% cut. It will be effective November 15, 2018.     
   Of the five states bordering Oklahoma, Arkansas pays their lawmakers the most- $39,400 a year, Texas the least- $7,200 a year.  Oklahoma legislators, like 40 other states are part time.  They meet in regular session 60-70 days per year from February to May.  Three observations:
    First, the board’s action was more about optics than substance.  The savings to state taxpayers will be $503,471 annually, certainly nothing to sneeze at, but that is just a tiny percentage of the nearly seven billion the legislature appropriates annually.  The board took the action to send a message, but it wasn’t the right one.   Wes Milbourn, the board president, said, “Oklahomans right now today are frustrated with Oklahoma’s Legislature.”  So using that logic, legislative salaries should be based on legislative likeability?  When Oklahomans like them, they should get more money and less when we don’t like them? 
     Second, reducing the salary for a legislator could result in fewer options at the ballot box.  Some potential lawmakers may not be able to afford to serve, meaning only the elite and wealthy would have the personal resources to serve.   That could result in fewer average Oklahomans in the legislature.
     Third, a workman is worthy of his hire.  Oklahoma lawmakers earn their money.  While they may meet only 66 days a year, they are always on the clock.  The last action the board took on legislative pay was twenty years ago when they raised legislative pay from $32,000 to $38,400. That action was met with anger by many Oklahomans because at that time it was twice what per capita income of the average Oklahoman.  If the board had kept up with inflation, that $38,400 would be $58,500 in 2017. 
     The state legislature represents the people and trying to starve them out or send half them home(unicameral) is a not a strategy that will move the state forward. Lawmakers should be paid a competitive wage for doing a difficult job.  If they aren’t representing the people, they should be defeated at the ballot box, not by withholding compensation. The board’s action appears to be retaliatory for the budget fiasco and that is not their constitutional function.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Blind Loyalty leads to Situational Ethics!

Weekly Opinion Editorial



BLIND LOYALTY & PREDICTABLE BEHAVIOR!
by Steve Fair
     Blind loyalty involves being loyal to a person or cause even when they misbehave or do something dishonest.  Those who engage in blind loyalty believe allegiance is more important than objectivity.  They believe keeping a positive image of the person or cause is more important than the truth. There are dozens of examples of people who are blindly loyal, but think of a battered woman who protects her husband when police arrive in answer to a domestic violence call. Think of people who defend bad behavior by political leaders knowing it is bad behavior.  Loyalty is only an outstanding virtue if the person or cause is just and good. 
     Being blindly loyal will lead a person to practice situational ethics. Situational Ethics is when a person dumps absolute moral standards to justify bad behavior for the ‘greater good.’   Those who practice situational ethics believe the end justifies the means.  It is acceptable to lie, cheat, and steal for the greater good.  When people start being blindly loyal and practicing situational ethics, their behavior becomes very predictable.   And political scientists and sellers of goods and services love predictable people.
    Economists rely on predictable human behavior.  Marketers develop products and then position and price them based on predictable human behavior.  They bank on people reacting as they expect.   Politicos bank on people reacting to an issue in a predictable manner.  According to a recent study by psys.org, human behavior is 93% predictable across all demographics.  The fact is we aren’t as spontaneous as we like to think.    
     If you want an example of predictable human behavior, write about politics on Facebook.  The comments will be predictable.  Liberals and conservatives- establishment and non-conformists- will see the post differently and their reactions will be either to agree with your post or to attack- all not unexpected.  There will seldom be a comment that surprises you.  In The Art of War, Sun Tzu said this about predictable behavior:  “Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.” 
  In recent years, politics has become a blood sport with the so called ‘establishment’ on one side and the ‘non-establishment’ on the other.  Press releases from elected officials and comments from their supporters are so predictable that you could write them yourself.  They ‘spin’ any event or issue to fit their worldview.  Both sides backbite and make personal attacks on those who disagree with their view.  The intentionally misrepresent the other faction’s position on issues.   Elected officials and citizens should work toward respecting differing opinions and restore civility to the process.  The first step is to recognize that blind loyalty is wrong, and that we shouldn’t be so predictable.