Monday, August 14, 2017

GOP Leadership has to hold the caucus together!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

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.

Monday, August 7, 2017

We have NOVICE legislators learning ON THE JOB!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
   When term limits for state legislators was overwhelmingly passed by Oklahoma voters in September 1990, those who opposed the limits said the loss of ‘institutional knowledge’ would result in a government run by the bureaucrats.   Supporters of term limits said that was hogwash and the turnover of lawmakers would result in true citizen legislators.  They envisioned Oklahomans who would go to 23rd and Lincoln serve for 12 years and then come back home and go back into the private sector.  Both sides were wrong.
     First, the ‘institutional knowledge’ that controlled Oklahoma state government before term limits had led the state to the bottom in virtually every economical category, so losing that leadership wasn’t a mistake. Before term limits, the legislature was controlled by a small group that was beholden to no one.  State lawmakers served decades and graft, corruption, kickbacks, and bribery was standard operating procedure.  That ‘institutional knowledge’ maintained the status quo and grew Oklahoma government to where we had the most state government employees per capita in the United States.  We led the nation in the diversion of federal highway funds for other uses- and the list goes on and on.  It couldn’t have gotten worse.
     Second, along comes term limits and instead of ‘citizen legislators’ replacing the career politicians, like advocates for term limits expected, the ‘clueless’ replaced them.  Candidates emerged who had never paid attention to state government and didn’t understand state government got elected.  These novice lawmakers relied on leadership to guide them and that leadership grew government.  Many of them view the legislative job as a stepping stone to a higher office, or a lifetime government position, exactly like the career politicians terms limits promised to eliminate. 
     Has legislative term limits been good for Oklahoma?  Yes, as a whole.  It has allowed some really good people to serve in the legislature that likely wouldn’t have if not for term limits.  It has purged the legislature of most of the ‘good ole boy’ network that held us back for nearly a century. But you can’t prove by the numbers that term limits has resulted in better Oklahoma state government.  Our economic rankings still remain near the bottom.  We still export our most valuable resource- our children- to other states for jobs.  We still have too many school districts and far too many regional colleges and tech centers.  We haven’t diversified economically and continue to heavily depend on the energy sector. Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French journalist said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” 
     The answer isn't scrapping term limits.  The answer is elected people who know something about the issues facing state government BEFORE they get to 23rd and Lincoln.  Lawmakers can't be 'learning on the job'- not when they are spending my money.