Monday, January 30, 2017
FOCUS ON THE SPENDING SIDE OF THE LEDGER!
Weekly Opinion Editorial
FIND THE WASTE!
by Steve Fair
In December, the Oklahoma State Board of Equalization, which is made up of the Governor, Lt. Governor, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Attorney General, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Secretary of Agriculture met and certified the amount of money the Oklahoma legislature has to spend this year. Because revenue is down, the board certified $869 million less than last year. That is a -12.6% decrease from last year and comes on top of last year’s-20% shortfall. Much of Oklahoma government revenue is based on oil and gas gross production tax and while the price of oil goes down, so does production.
Next week, the Oklahoma legislature convenes and this will be a challenging session, coming on the heels of last year’s challenging session. Republicans who have been campaigning about making government smaller may be forced to do just that. Since Republicans took control of the state legislature in 2006, very little ‘streamlining/rightsizing’ of state government has been done. Now that tax revenue is off double digits, it is quite possible the campaign rhetoric is going to have to match what legislators actually do.
It is disappointing when some Rs focus on only one side of the ledger- the revenue side. Instead of identifying waste in state government, they float more and more ideas of how to get more money out of the hard working people in Oklahoma’s pockets. The Governor has said taxing cigarettes, tattoos and car washes is likely. Others said it is time to eliminate ‘tax credits.’ Tax credit is a deplorable term because it assumes the money is the governments before it is collected and by designating your money a ‘credit’ the government is giving you permission to keep your own money. Very Republican concept- not!
Preston Doerflinger, the Secretary of State Finance, an appointee of the Governor, says: “I think it’s important for everybody to realize you’re not cutting your way out of this situation. We have to have a serious conversation about revenue in this state.” Why can’t you cut your way out of it? Is Oklahoma government so lean and mean that no fat exists anywhere? What if the people overwhelmingly rejected the idea of paying more taxes and those deep cuts had to be made? Waste would have to found and eliminated. That is how it works in business? If there is a downturn in sales, a business doesn’t keep on spending? They adjust expenses, lay off workers and work on building the revenue stream. Families often have to make tough decisions when their income is reduced. Adjustments have to be made, but when government is short on money, they just tax the people more.
No doubt the legislature will do ‘across the board’ cuts this year as they always do and tell every state agency they need to feel the pain equally. The problem is that one size doesn’t fit all. Some agencies should feel the pain more than others. The legislature will take this ‘path of least resistance’ because they say there isn’t the money and time to locate where the real waste is. Here is a novel idea: why not fund the constitutional office charged with watching government- the State Auditor’s office- with incremental money to hire more auditors to turn over more rocks and find more waste? That common sense idea has been presented several times and is always voted down, primarily because Gary Jones, the current Auditor, has been critical of the legislature. The only state agency that should be getting more funding is the one that is looking out for the taxpayers.
Some Republicans just don’t get it. They honestly believe taxpayers are in favor of more taxes. They prance around with ideas to give raises to public school teachers, judges, state agency heads, and bureaucrats all while proclaiming they believe in ‘small government.’ They support taking more tax dollars out of our pockets so they can keep Oklahoma government up in the manner in which it has become accustomed. With Oklahoma being so dependent on the oil/gas industry, thousands of Oklahomans have been put out of a job and those who got other jobs aren’t making as much as they were before. How many state employees has Oklahoma government cut during that same period? Guaranteed, it was nothing like the private sector.Oklahoma government doesn’t have too little of the taxpayer’s money- they have too much. They mismanage the money they get. Call your state legislator today and tell them you are not in favor of any tax increase until they start working on the spending side of the ledger first.