Sunday, March 3, 2024

It took 25 years, but Republicans finally fulfilled the promise to eliminate food tax!

Weekly Opinion Editorial


HIDE THE PEA!

by Steve Fair

 

     According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average Oklahoma family spends about $240 per week on food.  Oklahoma citizens are paying about $600 in state sales tax each year when they buy groceries.  Last week, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed HB #1955, which will eliminate the 4.5% state sales tax on groceries.  It will not go into effect until August 2024.  The grocery sales tax cut is estimated to reduce state government revenue by $418 million. 

Governor Stitt and Speaker of the House Charles McCall, (R-Atoka), are advocating a ¼% reduction in the state income tax, but Senate President Pro-Tempe Greg Treat, (R-Edmond) says the Senate won’t agree to that proposal this year.  Three observations: 

     First, eliminating the grocery tax makes sense.  Oklahoma is one of only thirteen states still taxing food.    Because people have to eat, taxing food tends to hurt poor people more than the rich.  Poor people spend a larger percentage of their income on food.  Texas, New Mexico and Colorado don’t tax food, Kansas is eliminating their grocery tax, and Arkansas taxes food at 1.25%. This action just gets Oklahoma in line with bordering states.

    Citizens in Oklahoma have been lobbying the legislature for years to stop taxing food.  In the late 1990s, former State Rep. John Sullivan, (R-Tulsa) ran a bill for three straight sessions to eliminate the tax on food.  With tax and spend Democrats in the majority, Sullivan’s bill received little traction.  During the push by Republican in the early 2000s to win legislative races, elimination of the grocery tax in Oklahoma was a mainstay on most candidate push cards and campaign material.  It took just 25 years, but Republicans finally fulfilled the promise.

      Second, Oklahomans will still pay sales tax on food.  HB#1995 eliminated only the state portion of the sales tax (4.5%).  Municipalities, cities and counties will still assess tax on food.  In many cases, that amount is as much as 5.5%.    Those entities are not likely to follow the state’s lead in removing the tax on food, because they depend on the tax revenue to provide basic services. 

     Third, a consumption tax is a fair way to tax.  The grocery tax was a consumption tax. A consumption tax taxes people when they spend money.  The state (and Federal) income tax is assessed when you earn money, or get interest, dividends, or capital gains.  Consumption taxes are paid as retail sales tax, excise tax, use tax and import duties.   It isn’t regressive and has few ‘loopholes’ or codes.  Consumption taxes encourage saving and not spending.  

     Oklahoma government will still get a large percentage of revenue from sales tax.  The state gets a large amount of funding by taxing the oil industry (gross production tax).  Governor Stitt wants to eliminate the state’s 4.25% state income tax.  If that is done, how will Oklahomans fund state government?  Where would state government get money?  Will Oklahomans give up basic services to pay less taxes?  Is Oklahoma state government so bloated that state employees and services can be eliminated and no one notice?  Probably not. 

     No one likes taxes, but they are a necessary evil.  Knowing when you are paying tax is crucial and Oklahoma just eliminated a transparent one.  The grocery tax was the devil you knew. No one liked paying grocery tax, but they understood it- it wasn’t hidden.  Will state government have to make up the loss of $418 million each year, and if so how?  Taxpayers beware! Let the hide the pea game begin!    

 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Exploiting people of faith is nothing new!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


MISBRANDED!

by Steve Fair

 

     Is America a Christian nation?  According to a Pew Research poll October 2022, 60% of U.S. adults believe that was the founder’s intent.  76% of Republicans and 47% of Democrats hold that view, but the poll found only 34% of Americans believe the United States is actually guided by Christian principles.  A February 2023 NPR poll found 50% of Republicans believe the country should be governed by Christian principles.  Only 23% of Democrats wanted the country governed by biblical principles.

      Christian nationalism is defined as a society or government that legislates civil and criminal laws reflecting views of Christianity.  Christian nationalism is under attack by liberal critics- and some conservatives- who declare it a threat to democracy.  Are Christian political activists a threat to America?  Three observations:

     First, faith not practiced isn’t faith at all. Many branded ‘Christian nationalists’ are believers who got fed up with getting the same old thing (lies/unfulfilled promises) from their government and decided to engage in the political process.  The vast majority of these recent activists hold to a pluralistic worldview and believe their fellow Americans have a right to worship as they please- or not at all.  They aren’t trying to establish a state church or a theocracy.  These patriots just want a government that reflects their values and not the convictions of faithless, agnostic, godless secularists.  Liberals have no issue with Christians, so long as they don’t practice their faith.  It’s when believers start to apply biblical principles in their life and live out their faith that liberals feel threatened and cry foul.  Liberals preach tolerance, but rarely practice it. 

     Second, the walk must match the talk.  A person’s walk talks and their talk talks, but their walk talks more than their talk talks.  When a believer’s actions don’t square with the commands of Christ, their motivation should be questioned.  The two great commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor.  When so-called conservative Christians use liberal tactics to further a political agenda, they fail to manifest the fruit of the spirit.   The Creator will fight battles more effectively and timely than His creatures.  Violating Christian principles and practicing situational ethics to win a temporal political victory is short-term thinking.  Those misguided people hurt the cause more than help. 

     Third, exploiting faith is nothing new.  In the last 50 years in the United States, faith-based voters have been collocated, organized, and immobilized to vote as a bloc.  Candidates pander to the bloc by telling voters what they want to hear.  After getting elected, the charlatan’s actions don’t match their words.  The over-trustful don’t follow-up and the cycle continues.  Because many churches have abandoned the message of the true Gospel and preach political relevance, they are looked at as political depots and not centers of worship.

     America was founded on Christian principles.  The founders were predominately Christians and they were not afraid to admit it.  The countries’ two founding documents (Declaration of Independence/Constitution) contain multiple references to the Creator and explicitly declare all freedom, liberty and rights come from God, not from government.  What liberals truly fear is America returning to governing as the founders intended. They misbrand that ‘Christian nationalism.’ 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Recognizing risks of an Article 5 is not trepidation or fear!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


ARTICLE 5 STILL BAD IDEA!

by Steve Fair

     The U.S. Constitution allows for amendments in two ways: (1) a 2/3 approval by both Houses of Congress and ratification by ¾ of the states or (2) a convention called by 2/3 of states (34 of the 50) and amendments then ratified by ¾ of the states (38 of the 50).  An Article 5 convention has never been used to amend the founding document.  All twenty-seven (27) amendments to the Constitution have been proposed by Congress and ratified by the states.

     In 2015, Citizens for Self-Governance launched a nationwide effort to call for an Article 5 convention.  As of 2024, 19 states, including Oklahoma, have agreed to participate in a Convention of States.  Fifteen more states need to agree to participate before the Article 5 convention is a reality.  The Article 5 is currently being debated and considered in Idaho and Ohio’s legislatures. 

     The Convention of States has proponents and opponents on both ends of the political spectrum.  Liberals and conservatives fear the possibility of a ‘runaway’ convention and the current document being scraped and a runaway convention resulting.

     The late U.S. Senator Dr. Tom Coburn, (R-OK) supported an Article 5.  He said, “I think George Mason was prophetic that we would devolve to where the federal government became too powerful, too big and too unwieldy.  That[S1]  is why he put Article V in the Constitution.  I think we ought to have a balanced budget amendment.  I think we ought to have term limits.  I think we ought to put a chokehold on regulation and re-establish the powers of the Congress.”  Coburn’s lobbying of the Oklahoma state legislature in 2017 resulted in passage of SJR3 and the Sooner state became the 7th state in the country to call for an Article 5.  Three observations:

     First, Coburn’s observations about government were/are correct.  The government is too big and unwieldy.  The government spends too much money and career elected officials often spend decades in politics.  Term limits and a balanced budget amendment would fundamentally change America.  Even when Republicans control government, the national debt continues to climb and term limit legislation is ignored.  Those two issues are addressed only when it’s primary campaign season. 

     Second, there is no way to know what would happen at a Convention of the States.  No radio host, former elected official, Constitutional lawyer, oracle or soothsayer can definitively know what would happen at an Article 5 convention.  There are differing opinions and educated guesses, but since it has never been used to amend, it remains a mystery what might happen.  If an Article 5 did spiral out of control, it could destroy America.  If it worked, it could save America.  The issue is there is no guarantee only term limits and a balanced budget amendment would be the only issues considered.  The convention itself would control the agenda, not Congress or the states.  A runaway convention is a risk America should not be willing to take. 

     Third, desperate times require rational action.  Desperate times don’t require desperate measures.  That is irrational.  Level headed thinking is critical in times of chaos.  Throwing the baby out with the bath water is not wise.  Recognizing the risks of a Convention of States is not trepidation or fear- it’s reasonable and sensible.     

      Nine years ago, I wrote an op/ed titled, “Article 5 Convention is a Bad Idea.”  You can read it here: https://stevefair.blogspot.com/2015/02/article-five-convention-is-bad-idea.html The column triggered a series of opposing editorials written by then Senator Coburn.  We engaged in a months’ long back and forth op/ed battle supporting our opposing positions on an Article 5.  Dr. Coburn told me I would eventually come to support the idea of an Article 5.  Perhaps he was right, but not yet.  Nine years later, an Article 5 convention remains a bad idea.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Selective enforcement of the law is a breeding ground for corruption!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial

CONTRADICTORY  STANDARD?

by Steve Fair

         On Thursday, Special Counsel Robert Hur released his report on President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents.  After a yearlong investigation, Hur said there was evidence Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified materials when he was a private citizen.  The report took aim at President Biden’s memory and mental capability, saying: “We have also considered that, at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”  Apparently, Biden couldn’t remember dates and major events in his life during the interview process.  This should not come as a surprise to Americans who have been paying attention.   

     Biden held a news conference attacking Hur’s statement on his mental health, but during the presser appeared confused and befuddled, doing little to contradict the special counsel’s report.  Hur, a Republican former U.S. attorney appointed by President Trump, did not charge Biden in the mishandling of documents. 

      President Trump has been charged by Special Counsel Jack Smith for his handling of classified documents.  Hur’s reluctance to charge Biden invoked comparisons in the two cases.  Hur attempted to preempt comparisons to the Trump case from the Biden case by stating, “Unlike the evidence involving Mr. Biden, the allegations set forth in the indictment of Mr. Trump, if proven, would present serious aggravating facts.”  Three observations:

     First, Hur’s comparison between the two cases proves the political nature of the charges.   It was highly inappropriate for Hur to mention the Trump case in his report.  Hur was not charged with investigating Trump and his commentary was political, not legal.  Which raises the question: if Biden’s actions didn’t warrant charges, what did Trump do to justify his?  Some claim the difference is Biden cooperated with Hur and Trump didn’t gee haw with Smith.  But Americans are guaranteed equal protection under the law.  In the United States, there is a rule of law and due process and a citizen’s constitutional rights are not based on their willingness to cooperate with authorities investigating them.   

     Second, liberals seem to avoid charges more than conservatives.  Biden wasn’t charged by Hur.  Back in 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wasn’t charged by James Comey in her mishandling of classified documents, even though Comey criticized her actions.  Enforcing the handling of classified documents laws equally doesn’t seem to be case in the U.S. 

     Third, Hur’s comments on Biden’s mental health hurt his reelection chances.  “Well meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,’ doesn’t inspire confidence and will raise a red flag to voters this year.  Paul Begala, a Democrat political strategist who ran Bill Clinton’s campaigns, called Biden’s Thursday press conference attempt to discredit Hur’s observation, ‘terrible for Democrats.”  The president’s age has been cited as an issue by over 60% of voters and Hur’s report does little to help.

     Selective enforcement of the law is a breeding ground for corruption.  The law in America is not to be administered at the discretion of the enforcer.  Enforcement should be absolute, rigid, and inelastic.  Applying contradictory standards to the law undermines America’s system of government and way of life.  If evidence shows Trump violated the law, then the same law should apply to Biden’s case, no matter how muddled his mental state.   

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Oklahomans want their change back!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


LIGHTNING COULD STRIKE TWICE!

by Steve Fair

     The special legislative session called by Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt began on Monday.  Stitt wanted the legislature to pass a ¼ percent income tax cut.  The state House convened and passed HB#1002 71 to 20, along Party lines on Wednesday.  The state Senate convened on Monday and then adjourned after just fifteen minutes.  The vote to adjourn was 30-13 with 5 not voting.  All 13 nays were Republicans.  Go to https://oksenate.gov/sites/default/files/2024-01/Adjourn.pdf to see how your lawmaker voted on the adjournment motion. 

     Calling a special session immediately before a regular legislature session hasn’t been done before.  The state Constitution mandates the Oklahoma legislature is in regular session from the first Monday in February until the last Friday in May each year.  Special sessions are called by the governor to deal with a specific issue.  Stitt called this session because he, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, (R-Edmond), and Speaker of the House Charles McCall, (R-Atoka) have been bickering and squabbling over giving taxpayers a tax cut for two years.   Three observations: 

     First, calling a special session was a waste of taxpayer dollars.  Stitt knew Treat and the majority of the Republicans in the Senate were lukewarm to his tax cut proposal.  In a press release last week, the [S1] governor lauded McCall and criticized Treat because he said he wouldn’t take up tax cuts in a special session.  The Senate’s action wasn’t a surprise.  Until a collaboration or compromise had been agreed to by all parties, a special session should not have been called.  Using Oklahoma taxpayer’s dollars to make another politico look bad is foolhardy.   

     Treat has said the Senate will entertain tax policy in the regular session, after the State Board of Equalization approves the amount of money the legislature has to spend this fiscal year. 

     Second, taxpayers are due a tax break.  Oklahoma government is flush with money and has been for the past three years.  When you send your kid to the store with $5 to get something and it costs $3.50, you expect change back.  You wouldn’t be very happy if they refused to give you back your change.  Stitt wants to eliminate tax on groceries and reduce the income tax rate to a maximum of 3.99% (it’s currently 4.75%).    Treat says he doesn’t oppose a tax cut, but it is premature to do it before fiscal information is known.   It makes no sense to give a tax cut and then have a budget shortfall the next fiscal year, but why can’t state government ‘reduce’ spending according to income?  Republicans campaign on that principle, but never practice it.       

     Third, term limits, by necessity, should be linked with recall.  Oklahoma passed term limits to keep elected officials from making politics a career.  But those who pushed for term limits failed to foresee a need for recall.  Oklahoma state wide elected officials (Governor and 8 others) serve eight-year terms.  Legislators serve twelve-year terms.  Stitt, McCall and Treat are all termed out of their respective offices.  They will not be on the ballot again for the office they hold. That’s not to say, they will not seek another office (most likely all three will and that is what a lot of this political positioning is about). The constituents that put all three in office-those who hold them accountable- have no real recourse if they disagree with their actions.  They have to wait it out until they ‘term out.’  Recall would give voters the ability to hold their elected officials accountable. 

     There are two ways for recall to happen in Oklahoma; the easiest way would be for a courageous legislature to pass a Joint Resolution (JR) putting it on the ballot.  Not likely!  The second way is the Initiative Petition process.  172,000 Oklahoma voters would need to sign a petition to get recall on the ballot.  Clearly, voters are fed up with being burned by arrogant, term-limited politicos who thumb their nose at their constituents in their last term.  Recall might just happen this year.

     In 2018, the Republican-controlled Oklahoma state legislature passed the largest tax increase in Oklahoma history.  The next couple of election cycles had many of those legislators paying the price at the ballot box and were defeated.  If 2024’s legislature session results in no tax cuts for hard working Oklahomans after record income, lightning will strike twice and the kids who wouldn’t give back the change will pay the price.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

AMERICA UNDER INVASION! TEXAS DEFIES SCOTUS RULING!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial

SOUTHERN INVASION

by Steve Fair

 

     Up until the early 20th century, the United States had nearly open borders.  Between 1890 and 1924, only about 1% of those trying to immigrate to America were rejected, usually because they failed a mental or health test.  Until The Naturalization Act of 1906 was passed, individual states determined what constituted American citizenship with standards varied state by state.  The federal bill standardized requirements to be a citizen and established the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to manage immigration. 

     Illegal immigration started to became an issue in the 1950s when the U.S. economy was booming and immigrates were drawn to America for a better life.  Quotas (visas and citizenship) established by Congress and enforced by the INS created bottlenecks for immigrants trying to achieve legal status.  Because the legal process was long and cumbersome, many abandoned trying to achieve citizenship, but stayed in the U.S. anyway.   

     In 1986, President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act which allowed illegal immigrants to apply for legal status, provided they paid fines and back taxes.  Three million illegals paid $185, vowed to learn to speak English and demonstrate good moral character.  In exchange, they were given a path to citizenship.  The unintended consequence of Reagan’s action was it encouraged more illegals to come to America.  The population of illegals has risen from 5 million in 1986 to an estimated 11.1 million today.  Three observations:

     First, America is under invasion.  What is happening at the southern border is not immigration, it’s invasion.  At least two million people are illegally entering the United States annually at the southern border.  The storming was triggered by President Biden.  In his first 100 days in office, Biden stopped the construction of the border wall, halted deportations, and cut border security funding.  The action resulted in a marked increase in illegal border crossings, creating not only a security crisis, but a health one as well. 

     Fentanyl is coming into the U.S. in record amounts.  According to the DEA, fentanyl is made by cartels in Mexico with chemicals from China.  Last year, the Border Patrol seized over 11,000 lbs of fentanyl at the border, which is equivalent to ½ million lethal doses.  Overdoses of fentanyl are now the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18-45. 

     Second, President Biden should immediately secure the border.  He opened it with an Executive Order(EO) and it can be closed with an EO.  On Friday, Biden promoted a bipartisan Senate bill, authored by U.S. Senator James Lankford, (R-OK), that pairs southern border enforcement with Ukraine aid.  If the bill makes it through the Senate, it is not likely to go anywhere in the House.  Lankford has taken a lot of heat from Republicans for championing the bill.  He has urged lawmakers to refrain from passing final judgment on the bill until they see the actual text of the bill.  Lankford claims some conservative media are ‘spinning’ what is in the bill.  Former President Trump has attacked the bill and claims it is a gift to the Democrats.  Biden’s support of the Senate bill does raise a red flag since he ignored Congress back in 2021 when he created the current chaos by signing the EO. 

     Third, Texas isn’t waiting on the feds.  The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled 5-4 last week Texas had to remove razor wire from Shelby Park in Eagle Pass.  The park is a popular crossing spot for illegals from Mexico.   Governor Greg Abbott says Texas has a right to defend itself from invasion and defied the ruling.  Texas National Guard and state troopers continue to roll out wire and prevent federal agents from accessing the park.  Abbott has vowed to ‘hold the line.’  He has been applauded by every Republican governor in the country, including Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. 

     Kicking the illegal immigration issue down the road has been a bi-partisan practice.  Congress has been relucent to take on the hot button issue, so each president, from both Parties- via Executive Orders- has dictated America’s immigration policy.  It is past time for Congress to address immigration.  It’s a matter of national security.       

Sunday, January 21, 2024

AMERICAN POLITICS HAS BECOME AN ECCCHHHOOO CHAMBER!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial 


WHO DEFINES EXTREMISM?

by Steve Fair

 

     Wasteful government spending is not new or a surprise.  The Heritage Foundation says the federal government has lost almost $2.4 trillion in simple payment errors over the last twenty years.  Improper/incorrect payments cost taxpayers $247 billion each year.  From 2011-2014, the late Senator Tom Coburn, (R-OK) published “The Wastebook.”  Coburn found taxpayers funded an $856,000 federal grant to train mountain lions to walk on treadmills.  During the war in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense erroneously bought $28 million dollars of forest camouflage uniforms to be used in the deserts of Afghanistan.  Opps! Squandering taxpayer money by not being a good steward is one thing, but when the government uses taxpayer money to attack political ideology and free speech, that’s something else.

     In February of 2023, the University of Rhode Island’s Media Education Lab (URIMEL) was awarded a $700,000 federal grant by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) counterterrorism program to use propaganda to attack conservatives.    “Propaganda can also be used for socially beneficial purposes,”  URIMEL’s grant application read.  “The U.S. has long made use of beneficial propaganda during WWI, WWII, and the Cold War.” 

     URIMEL has used the grant money to write blog posts attacking former President Donald Trump and his supporters.  They conduct seminars (Courageous RI) for the stated purpose of countering disinformation, enhancing civic participation and improving media literacy.  They used tax dollars to pay young people to post on social media attacking conservative policies.  Three observations:

     First, tax dollars used to attack free speech should be a non-partisan issue.  No matter what political ideology, all Americans should be outraged their government is using tax dollars to attack free speech.  In America, a fundamental basic right is for each citizen to have a right to their opinion/values/convictions.  Their view may be wrong in other’s eyes, but the right to be wrong should be respected.  URIMEL’s stated mission is to prevent rising violence and extremism in Rhode Island with authentic and respectful conversation.  But who determines what is extreme?  What is considered authentic, respectful conversation and who makes that judgment?  If it is the Party in power, then extremism changes with who is in charge. 

      Second, it is not government’s function to dispense propaganda.  In America, government’s job is to make laws, implement and execute those laws and adjudicate them as necessary.  Government’s purpose doesn’t include publicizing a particular political point of view, promoting a political cause, or attacking fellow American’s perspective.  Governing policies may contradict one another from administration to administration, but using taxpayer dollars to brainwash fellow citizens is improper. 

     Third, politics has become an echo chamber.  Americans live in an environment where they encounter only beliefs and opinions that coincide with their own.  Alternative views are never considered.  Graciously allowing someone to disagree with a viewpoint is considered weak and lacking in character.   People are placated and told what they want to hear by media and politicos.  Considering a differing view could be right is considered sacrilegious and inexcusable.  People who agree 80% of the time are political enemies because they focus on the 20%.  Nothing gets done because no one will concede any ground or barter. 

     Edmund Burke said, “All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.”  Compromise and barter are dirty words in modern American politics.

      Taxpayers should be up in arms tax dollars are being used to attack conservatives.  The URIMEL grant should be revoked/repealed/canceled and the DHS officials who approved it should be held accountable.  Those bureacrats are the extremists.