Monday, May 22, 2017
Audit HIGHER ED!!
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
The Oklahoma state legislature met last Saturday in a rare weekend session in an attempt to work out a budget. With the end of the fiscal year looming (June 30th), and the state constitution regarding a balanced budget, the decline in revenue has presented lawmakers with a challenge. After enough Republican conservatives rebelled and would not vote for increases on cigarettes and gasoline, legislative leaders reached out to the Democrats to convince them Oklahoma state government needs more money and that partnering with the Rs would be in their best interest. Using the opportunity, House Minority leader Scott Inman twice walked out of negotiations with the Governor and Republican legislative leaders. Inman, who has announced he is running for Governor, held a news conference after one walk-out, so it was an obvious staged event. Several state lawmakers say they are headed for a ‘special session,’ to get a budget passed. If the past is any indicator, Oklahomans will get tax increases and agencies ‘across the board’ cuts to balance the budget. That is the only way they know.
Three observations about Oklahoma’s budget woes:
First, when is Oklahoma government going to learn? State government and our state’s economy are so dependent on the energy sector. When oil and gas prices decline, revenue goes down and cuts to agencies are double digits. When times are good, state government is lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills and giving raises to every bureaucrat they can find. A permanent long term solution to insure proper funding of core services should be devised. It can’t be done in a legislative special session. It must be a well thought out, devoid of emotion solution that levels the revenue stream and takes out the peaks and valleys the current system has.
Second, why hasn’t every agency been audited, including Higher Ed (especially Higher Ed)? It’s because the legislature and the Governor don’t really want to know where the waste is. It has to be. If they really wanted to know, they would have funded the Auditor’s office early in the 2017 session. They would have asked them to expedite the audits and then after careful analysis, appropriate the bare minimum amount of tax dollars needed to provide core services to the agency. This revenue shortfall was not surprise. When the legislature convened, they knew it was going to be a short budget year. To blindly believe the only solution is to propose more taxes and fees is not the conservative way to govern.
Third, times are tough in Oklahoma. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Our teachers are underpaid. The butchers, bakers and candlestick makers fortunate enough to have a job, are also underpaid. Our economy has faded faster than a Thunder lead in the third quarter. In 2018, a number of people will throw their hat into the ring to run for Governor, Lt. Governor, and state legislature. Ask them three questions: (1) What will they do to help us avoid these dramatic downturns in our state? Will they go out and help existing Oklahoma businesses grow? Will they recruit business into the state that will provide stable jobs for Oklahomans? (2) Will they support auditing every agency, organization, association, anthill, or rat hole that gets one penny of Oklahoma tax dollars? It is past time for that to be done and until we have a Governor who will request those audits be done, we are simply taking the word of a bureaucrat they are spending our money wisely. Time to trust, but verify. (3) Will they support reducing the total government footprint in Oklahoma? This may mean reducing the number of state employees. It may mean closing or consolidating state agencies. It may mean consolidating school districts or sharing administrative function. Bear in mind that no Republican, in their right mind, campaigns in a primary on a platform of higher taxes and bigger government, so don’t be surprised when every R candidate answers in the affirmative to all three questions.
Your mission- should you choose to accept it- is to determine which candidate will actually do what they say they will do. You can call it Mission Impossible.