Monday, August 28, 2017
Weekly Opinion Editorial
WHERE ARE THE RISK-TAKERS?
by Steve Fair
The Oklahoma legislature is headed to a special session. It’s not clear when, but it will not likely happen until Governor Fallin and Republican legislative leaders have the details hammered out on how to plug the $215 million dollar budget hole created when the Supreme Court ruled the cigarette fee was actually a tax and therefore unconstitutional. It was reported that a budget deal had been worked out, but that was quickly denied by legislative leadership and the governor. From all indications it appears they are working exclusively on the ‘revenue’ side of the ledger. Bureaucrats have been effective in selling their message that Oklahoma government has been ‘cut to the bone.’ Three observations:
First, if Oklahoma government is lean and mean and has little waste, has that been verified? Too many lawmakers have simply accepted it as fact. There should be a comprehensive audit of state government. Every entity that gets one dime of state tax dollars should be audited. No stone should be left unturned and the constitutional office charged with auditing- Oklahoma State Auditor & Inspector- should be given incremental funding to get it done, not some appointed ‘special auditor,’ handpicked by the governor or legislative leadership. If that is not done, then it is clear the legislature is not serious about ‘rightsizing’ government.
Second, a fundamental economic principle that has escaped many lawmakers is that corporations and businesses do not pay taxes, people pay taxes. Whenever a politico talks about raising taxes on oil/gas companies, ending tax credits for various other industries or charging sales taxes for goods and services, they are in effect raising individual taxes. Businesses aren’t sponges. They don’t ‘absorb’ taxes. They pass taxes along to consumers in the form of price increases. When the price of peanuts(or the tax on peanuts) goes up, the price of peanut butter goes up. Most citizens understand the concept, but it appears many elected officials don’t get it.
Third, Oklahoma needs bold, innovative, risk-taking leadership to move the state forward. We don’t need elected officials that will simply grow government and do what has been done. We need leaders who will fundamentally change Oklahoma government. We need risk taking, inspiring leaders-people willing to do what’s right instead of what is easy.
President Ronald Reagan said, “This country was founded and built by people with great dreams and the courage to take great risks.” General George Patton said, “Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.” Oklahoma needs leaders who will take calculated risks and not just work on one side of the ledger in a down budget year.Every person running for the legislature and the statewide offices in 2018 will claim to be a risk taker, but most who claim to be risk-takers are reckless ideologues, who would have little chance of being an effective change agent if they were elected. An effective risk taking leader is competent, has character, courage, and charisma.
Monday, August 21, 2017
Weekly Opinion Editorial
PRESIDENT IS NOT
CONSOLER IN CHIEF!
by Steve Fair
Is it the job of the president to sooth the nation during difficult times? Is he the consoler in chief? Most liberals and some conservatives believe that is the case. After the protest in Charlottesville, VA by a white supremacy group protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee erupted into a riot between the protesters and the anti-protesters, President Trump addressed the nation and said that ‘many sides’ were to blame for the violence that left one woman killed and 19 injured. Because Trump didn’t specifically single out the white supremacy groups and condemn them, the mainstream media and politically correct went crazy.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said the white supremacy groups were not patriots and got out of bed every morning to ‘hate people and divide our country.” "Let's be honest, they need to leave America, because they are not Americans," he said. There is just one problem with that- in America, everyone has the guaranteed right of free speech. It’s in the first amendment to the constitution. Should we deport everyone who disagrees with us?
We have reached a point in America where no one tolerates anyone who disagrees with them. Republicans and Democrats fight among themselves and no one is willing to compromise on anything. The infighting in the Republican caucus is why nothing is moving through Congress. Civil debate is dead. Ideological purity is not just desired, it is demanded. Anger and bitterness reign the day, fueled by intolerance. Both sides blame the other. The tolerant will not tolerant anyone who disagrees with them. A college professor commenting on one of my recent columns says he believes America is on the brink of civil war. I doubt that because the will to fight long term is probably not in either group’s DNA, but who knows.
So should President Trump have named the so-called right wing groups who organized the protests and condemned them as ‘hate groups?’ Probably, but you may recall President Obama made a similar mistake when he refused to call out ‘radical Islam’ as the perpetrator after the Paris attacks. The firestorm over Trump not naming names is a hundred times worse than when Obama failed to do it. A president has the ‘bully’ pulpit and can use it to console, but according to the constitution, his primary job is twofold: to be the CEO of the federal government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
So how do we fix this divide in America? First, we recognize that we are dust of the earth and humbly acknowledge that only the Creator is omniscient. Second, we recognize that in America every citizen has the right to express their opinion, even those who disagree with us. Third, we stop the name calling, the lying, and the retaliation and strive for honest civil debate. Fourth, we pray because until God moves on the heart of the unregenerate, none of the first three will happen
Monday, August 14, 2017
Weekly Opinion Editorial
WE ARE OUT OF ROAD
TO KICK THE CAN DOWN!
by Steve Fair
Last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the $1.50 per pack cigarette tax the state legislature passed this session is unconstitutional. That was after the state’s lawyer in verbal argument before the court maintained the real objective of the increase on smokes was to keep people from smoking- and he said it with a straight face. Never mind the legislature estimated the increase would generate over $250 million dollars in revenue. If the legislature is serious about stopping smoking, why not make it illegal to smoke?
After getting the news of the court’s ruling, Governor Mary Fallin said, “I am disappointed to hear the Supreme Court struck down the smoking cessation fee, but I certainly respect the justices’ authority. I will be discussing with legislative leaders from both parties the need to address the $215 million shortfall this will create for the Department of Human Services, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the three agencies that received the bulk of the money that was to be generated by the cessation fee. These agencies and the people they serve cannot sustain the kind of cuts that will occur if we do not find a solution. My belief is we will have to come into special session to address this issue.”
The Senate Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus, said, “While I disagree, I appreciate the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s quick ruling allowing the governor and the Legislature to immediately address the matter. There are several options available to us, and Senate leadership will continue to work with the governor’s office and the House on deciding the best move forward.”
Speaker of the House Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said, "The tobacco fee for health care was passed in an effort to avoid significant budget cuts. After House Democrats refused time and again to support increased revenue measures, the fee was our only opportunity to balance the budget without deeper cuts. The minority party decided to play games with the budget, and now that opportunity has passed."
If the legislature couldn’t get a budget agreement in the entire regular session, what are the odds they will get one in special session? A special session costs taxpayers about $30,000 per day. Based on what happened during the regular session, this could be a long special session. The failure of legislative leadership to hold the GOP caucus together to reach the 75% margin to raise taxes doesn’t seem to have changed. As McCall said, the Democrats have not cooperated, but GOP leadership can’t blame the Ds when they have super majorities in both chambers.What is likely to happen will be another ‘kick the can down the road,’ budget where all state agencies take across the board cuts. So expect more of the same until we run out of road.