Sunday, November 29, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair
Representative Dennis Johnson, (R-Duncan) expects that one of the first bills voted on in the State House when the upcoming 2010 legislative session begins will be a bill that would increase the penalties for gang-related activities. SB #826 authored by Johnson and Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore) would make recruiting members to a criminal street gang a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Any gang member or anyone convicted of a crime, as a condition of a gang membership would be sentenced to an additional five years.
The bill would also provide immunity to school employees and teachers for providing information to the district superintendent or designated school official about suspected gang activity. The superintendent would then decide or whether to act on the information by having the student talk with a counselor to try to prevent the student from joining a gang or by giving the information to law enforcement officers.

But some believe SB #826 takes the wrong approach to the gang problem. At a recent joint meeting of the Oklahoma Youth and Gang Violence Coordinating Council and the Oklahoma Gang Intervention Steering Committee, Representative Mike Shelton, (D-Oklahoma), said legislators "can’t arrest our way to fix the gang problem. It just needs to be a holistic approach to working with these gang members. Some of them definitely need to be in jail; some of them just need to be diverted in a different direction.”

Representative Johnson agrees that preventing young people from joining a gang is a great objective, saying, "The ultimate goal is prevention.” Prevention must start early. In an recent article in The Oklahoman, it was reported that Oklahoma City and Tulsa police officers are now seeing gang members as young as 10 years old, compared with the youngest being identified as 12 years old just three years ago. Oklahoma City officers reported that some youngsters are recruited as young as 8 years old. Oklahoma City and Tulsa officers reported "third-generation” gang members, where son, dad and grandfather all belong to the same criminal gang.

According to a recent survey in Oklahoma on gangs, gang members are using cellphones, text messaging and social medias like Facebook and YouTube to recruit members as young as second-graders. The survey indicated that only 15 of the state’s 77 counties reported no gangs in 2009 compared with 19 counties three years ago. The survey also shows there has been a two percent increase in the number of gangs in the Sooner state the past three years.

In April 2007, The U.S. Attorney General announced the expansion of the Justice Department’s Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative to include Oklahoma City. The initiative targets dangerous street gangs and promotes prevention efforts to keep communities and neighborhoods safe. The DOJ estimates there are over one million gang members in the United States with about fifteen percent of that number incarcerated. Often gang leaders run their operations from prison.

Oklahoma City police estimates there are more than 5,000 gang members in Oklahoma City, which is about one percent of the city’s total population. "Gangs are the biggest cancer across the United States, and they are eating it up from the inside out," said Police Master Sgt. Tim Hock, the lead inspector with city police's gang enforcement unit. "They're urban terrorists." The number of gang related drive-by shootings has increased five fold in Oklahoma City and tripled in rural areas in just the past five years.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and prison gangs are the primary distributors of illegal drugs on the streets of the United States. Gangs also smuggle drugs into the United States and produce and transport drugs within the country. Oklahoma still has a meth problem and with drugs come gangs.
The Oklahoma Gang Investigators Association is a non-profit organization consisting of law enforcement and law-enforcement related professionals whose mission is two-fold: to share gang intelligence among our law enforcement members, and to educate the public to the violence associated with gangs. The OGIA, headquartered in Lawton, began in 1993 with a dozen dedicated police officers that met and shared intelligence regarding gang activities in their respective jurisdictions. This organization works to eliminate gang and their influence in our society.
Gangs are a problem in metro and rural Oklahoma and we can’t just ignore their presence. The argument that gang members would ignore this law just like they ignore other laws has little merit, because getting those recruiters off the street will prevent some grade schooler from becoming a gangbanger. Sykes and Johnson have authored a bill that will provide punishment for recruitment to gangs- a good first step in eliminating them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In today's Oklahoman the front page story- above the fold- is about Gary Jones'(Oklahoma State GOP Chairman) lawsuit against his former political opponent Jeff McMahan, former State Senator Gene Stipe, and former State Auditor and Inspector Clifton Scott. Jones was defeated by McMahan in both 2002 and 2006 in the State Auditor's race by razor thin margains. I wrote an article in 2005 that appeared in The Duncan Banner entitled 'Is Big Daddy McMahan's Sugar Daddy?' After the article appeared, State Auditor Jeff McMahan wrote a full page response that appeared in the following Sunday edition. In his rebuttal, Jeff falsely claimed he didn't know Steve Phipps at all. That has since been proven a lie as well several other falsehoods McMahan made in his rebuttal. Jeff said I was the mouthpiece for the State GOP. He was right about the MOUTHPIECE part, but not for the State GOP. Since today's article broke, I have been asked to post the infamous BIG DADDY article. Here it is- as it appeared over four years ago- Enjoy!

Is Big Daddy McMahan’s Sugar Daddy?
by Steve Fair
In the 1970s, a popular television show was The Dukes of Hazard. In every episode, Bo and Luke Duke battled the local political boss- appropriately named Boss Hogg. It was not your classic case of good vs. evil, because sometimes the Duke boys bent the law a little to suit their taste, but fundamentally they were the good guys. Boss Hogg had his dirty work done by Roscoe the dim-witted sheriff and Cletus, the Deputy. Roscoe never worried about re-election so long as the Boss was happy. The Boss reigned sovereign in Hazard County! It was good entertainment because we knew that in every episode, the Dukes would win out over Boss Hogg. It wasn’t set in Oklahoma because in the Sooner state unfortunately, the good guys don’t always win.

For decades when one thought of sleazy, backroom politics in Oklahoma, Gene Stipe instantly came to mind. Stipe was at one time the longest serving elected official in America. Serving over 50 years in the Oklahoma state legislature, he was the poster boy for term limits. During his reign, Stipe abused his office as State Senator by using his power to build what can only be described as an empire in Southeast Oklahoma. Senator Stipe was so notorious that he earned the nickname “The Prince of Darkness”- a real-life Boss Hogg. It seems the Prince has left his mark on many associates and partners that will perpetuate the Good Ole Boy network for decades to come in Oklahoma. Stipe followers have watched their idol rule over the State in a way that only a mafia boss could appreciate.
The good Senator manipulated and abused the system so effectively that his personal wealth is estimated to be over 26 million dollars. Many Oklahomans were hopeful that the day of Good Ole Boy politics in Oklahoma had come to an end when Stipe was forced to resign in shame. He pled guilty of violating federal campaign laws by illegally funneling $50,000 into Walt Roberts failed Congressional campaign, but it appears he hasn’t learned his lesson yet. Now, one of Stipe’s minions, Steve Phipps along with the former Senator are being investigated for what appears to be a scam to open a dog food plant in McAlester. The plant, which was financed by state and city tax dollars, has not produced a single can or bag of dog food. It has not created the 25 jobs that were promised. However: the facility has been utilized to service Indian gaming machines.
Phipps owns a business that provides that service to the tribes and he evidently, is using the facility to work on one arm bandits, but not to make pet food. Who is Steve Phipps? His nickname is “Big Daddy.” It seems that the dog food factory isn’t the only connection Big Daddy has to the Prince. Phipps and Stipe are partners in abstract companies across Southeast Oklahoma. Anyone selling or refinancing property in Oklahoma are required to have titles brought up to date within a 90 day period. Abstract companies are the only place to get that done in the state. In many counties, Phipps and Stipe own the only abstract office in town. To add insult to injury, abstractors set their own rates. What an industry-to have customers that have to do business with you- on your terms- at your price?
One has to ask how such a system could be allowed to exist in Oklahoma? Who is responsible for watching the abstractors? That responsibility falls to the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector. The author of the bill that gave the Auditor’s office that job? That’s right- Senator Gene Stipe. The Bellamy Brothers sang, What you need is a Sugar Daddy. It looks like Jeff McMahan has found one- maybe two. Now we learn that Big Daddy, The Prince and many of their employees and associates contributed to the 2002 campaign war chest of State Auditor Jeff McMahan.
When asked about the contributions McMahan stated that he would take any “legal campaign contribution.” He went on to say that anyone contributing to him was doing so because they “believed in good government.” The average Oklahoma taxpayer’s idea of good government and Phipps’ and Stipe’s idea might be a much different. To accept campaign contributions from any and everyone shows a serious lack of judgment on McMahan’s part. Who says that contributing to campaigns doesn’t pay dividends? It has paid excellent dividends for Phipps and Stipe.
McMahan has refused to audit the Private Economic Authority that gave the money to Phipps to build the phantom pet food plant. The land the authority gave to Phipps was purchased from Gene Stipe at more than 2 ½ times the assessed value. This whole multi-pronged transaction doesn’t pass the “smell” test.
And when Steve Phipps-aka- Big Daddy- feels the need to meet with someone at the State Capital to try to get laws passed, who does he call?. He calls his good buddy Jeff McMahan. Evidently, Steve Phipps has used the State Auditor’s office to meet with legislators and others on numerous occasions while trying to influence legislation. He may have gotten some wording inserted into a bill that gave him a competitive advantage to produce Indian Gaming machines.
As private citizens and taxpayers, we may not be able to do much about Stipe and Phipps and their shady dealings. That will be left to the investigators and prosecutors, but McMahan is another matter. His ties to Stipe and Phipps are troubling. We need to change our image in Oklahoma. McMahan is up for re-election in 2006 and we need to McFIRE him.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial

by Steve Fair
In 1985, Oklahoma voters approved the creation of the Constitutional Reserve Fund- aka the Rainy Day Fund (RDF). After the oil bust of the 1980s, it was created to fill in the gaps when Oklahoma state government hit “real hard times.” The state legislature can allocate up to ten percent of the total budget into the Rainy Day fund. Since its creation, the fund has been “tapped” for over one billion dollars, but it has not been used in six years. That’s primarily because Republicans have taken control of the legislature and they have exercised more fiscal restraint than Democrats.

The current balance in the Rainy Day fund is $600 million and with revenues down almost twenty percent from estimates, Governor Henry, education leaders, and others are saying it’s time to declare Oklahoma a “flood” zone and tap the RDF. State Treasurer Scott Meacham has projected a $700 billion dollar shortfall by fiscal year end. Based on the guidelines for tapping the RDF, $223 million can be used immediately due to the shortfalls- more if the governor and the legislature declare an emergency.
Henry has said, “As governor, I have scrupulously guarded the Rainy Day Fund so that we would have a safety net in place when Oklahoma faced a true emergency. With revenues continuing to decline and important services facing larger and larger cuts, I believe we are facing such an emergency.” The last time the RDF was tapped was Henry’s first year in office (2003) when the Democrat controlled legislature, at Henry’s urging, spent $70 million dollars and that “rain” didn’t get a windshield wet.
Speaker of the House Chris Benge, (R-Tulsa) says he isn’t so sure it’s time to tap the RDF. Benge said, “We are trying to figure out where the bottom is. We are not sure if we have reached it or not. From our line of thinking we would like to error on the side of cutting more and then if then if things are better than we expect, we can come back in and address those critical needs," Benge went on to say, "We must work to find the delicate balance between deeper cuts and use of our savings fund to ensure we balance our budget this year, while also positioning ourselves to be able to withstand likely continued declining revenues into the foreseeable future.”
Senate Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, (R-Bethany) agrees with Benge saying, "Our state continues to face uncertain revenue prospects for the foreseeable future, and the correct course of action is to continue to pare back expenditures throughout state government until better days return. We will continue to be conservative in our budgeting processes and look for waste or duplication in government services, and see the state through this challenging time.”
There was talk of a special legislative session to deal with the budget shortfalls, but that idea has apparently been scrapped. It appears the budget shortfall will be the first thing on the legislature’s plate when they convene in February. Governor Henry said, "When the regular legislative session convenes in February, we will have a better picture of the overall revenue outlook and more tools available to address the shortfall. We know the cuts will cause additional hardship for agencies and programs, but given the short-term fiscal outlook, there are no good options available.”
Three comments concerning the tapping of the Rainy Day Fund. First, if the RDF is tapped, it should be for the least amount possible. Cutting budgets and the size of government should be done first. I’m afraid many who want to tap the RDF see an opportunity to operate government as if times were good when the private sector and indiviuals are making major adjustments to their budgets due to the economy. It is true state agencies had their budgets cut this fiscal year and most have experienced reductions of five(5) percent in state funding from that number, but who in their right mind doesn’t believe government has at least twelve(12%) percent wasteful spending?

Second, these budget shortfalls present legislative leaders with the opportunity to tackle hard issues- like closing unnecessary state agencies and revamping common education in Oklahoma by uttering the “C” word (school district consolidation). It also gives lawmakers the opportunity to observe what areas of government are really necessary, which can be cut and those agencies we can do without.

Third, if we tap the RDF this year and things get worse, where is our “safety net?” The Rainy Day Fund is there when it’s really raining, not when the forecast calls for rain. True, these are not good times, but it’s not as bad as it could get. The RDF monies have always “burnt a hole” in the pocket of government bureucrats who cry “flood” when their budgets are cut. They are never willing to tighten their belts in tough times.
Speaker Benge and Pro Tempore Coffee should hold the line and focus on cutting wasteful spending first and tap the RDF when it’s really raining.

Monday, November 16, 2009

by Steve Fair

It’s critical that activist Republicans are honest when we evaluate so called ‘leaders’ who want to thrust themselves into becoming the GOP NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s book, “Going Rogue,” is coming out tomorrow and she is making all the talk shows*(even the liberal ones) in order to promote it. Palin is the choice of a lot of conservative activists for the 2012 presidential race, including some of my friends, but let me give you three reasons why she should not be considered:

(1) SHE QUIT! When Palin resigned her office before the completion of her term, she said it was because she was not seeking re-election and would be a lame duck Governor. She believed that she could not effectively govern as a lame duck. The truth is at some point, EVERY elected official becomes a lame duck. That was a ‘lame’ excuse. Vince Lombardi said, "once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit." You can't 'cut and run' when it gets tough. I suspect the real reason Palin quit was to ‘make a few bucks’ by writing a tell-all book. While Palin hasn’t cranked out the books like Neutron Newt Gingrich, her self-promotion is apparent and cheap.

(2) SHE IS INEXPERIENCED! I know Obama has no experience and is a novice, but Republicans should not promote an inexperienced candidate no matter how attractive they may be or how much they can excite the base. Face facts- Palin has little to no experience on foreign policy. She talks tough, but just being tough doesn’t necessarily mean you have the ability to govern the country. Her tough talk may be just a cover (see point 3)

(3) SHE WHINES! One of the most unflattering traits in a leader is when they whine about how they were treated by people. In Palin’s book, she gripes about McCain’s staff and how they mistreated her. She complained about how she was uncomfortable wearing high dollar clothes at the GOP convention. Anyone with a basic understanding of politics knows that ‘consultants’ formulate the message and ‘manage’ the campaign. These hirelings have few convictions and no ethical standards, and while Palin may not have been prepared for their ‘hardball’ tactics, they are nothing compared to a foreign head of state like Chavez or Kim Jong il. If she couldn't take the heat, she shouldn't have been in the kitchen. Lord Jeffrey said, “The tendency to whining and complaining may be taken as the surest sign symptom of little souls and inferior intellects.”

The title of Palin’s book implies she is a ROGUE which is defined by Webster as (1) An unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable person; a scoundrel or rascal or (2) One who is playfully mischievous; a scamp.

I’m sure Palin prefers the latter definition but neither is acceptable for leadership. Read the book for it's entertainment value, but dismiss the former Governor as a great fundraising tool for the GOP and nothing more.

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair
In this year’s legislative session, Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore) and Representative Mark McCullough, (R-Sapulpa) authored a bill known as the “Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act.” House Bill 2167 would have required Oklahoma governmental agencies to issue and publicly post a “Request for Proposals” for legal services and then publicly list all attorneys and law firms that are awarded contracts. McCullough and Sykes were attempting to stop what the Wall Street Journal called in a May 23rd editorial a “pay to sue” racket. They simply wanted the state to competitively bid the outside legal counsel the state uses. The current system allows the Attorney General to hire outside law firms and retain private lawyers on a contingency basis without a competitive bid.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously with overwhelming bipartisan support. It passed the State House 57-39 and was sent to the Governor, but Henry vetoed it saying, “While HB 2167 is well intended and has many good provisions, the legislation potentially does more harm than good because of its unintended consequences. Many state agencies could easily comply with the contracting restrictions in question, but for those agencies, such as Oklahoma Department of Transportation, that must respond quickly to a lawsuit or that must execute a large volume of legal contracts by virtue of their statutory responsibilities, such mandates would impair their ability to respond to pressing legal issues or to timely complete crucial projects, causing undue delays, increasing costs to the state and causing them to miss court-imposed deadlines. The Legislature should consider legislation that recognizes the unique statutory responsibilities of such adversely-impacted agencies.” Because it was such a close vote in the House, it was not likely the veto could have been overturned, but Sykes has vowed to file a similar bill in the next session.
There are several problems with Henry’s reason for his veto; First, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has multiple attorneys on their staff? Shouldn’t their internal counsel be handling these “emergencies” that arise? Isn’t that why ODOT and the taxpayer employ them?

Secondly, the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act is model legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and has been passed in Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, Kansas and Virginia. Several other states are considering the same legislation. That means three of our bordering states have enacted this policy to provide more transparency in government. If Oklahoma continues to lag behind the region in dealing with tort reform, we can expect to lose more doctors and health care professionals to states that have enacted true tort reform.

And finally, there is a fundamental moral problem with the practice itself. The head of a government agency should not be able to hire his friends or supporters with taxpayer money without a competitive bid and then solicit campaign contributions from those same friends and supporters. That is a clear conflict of interest and invites corruption.

According to the May 2009 WSJ editorial, “Mr. Edmondson was one of the first AGs to jump into the 1990s tobacco litigation. He gave work to two non-Oklahoma giants of tobacco torts, Motley Rice and Scruggs Millette. Also receiving contracts were three Oklahoma firms, including Riggs Abney -- home to Mr. Edmondson's friend and political ally, another former AG named Mike Turpen. As their part of the tobacco settlement, the firms would ultimately reap $250 million in legal fees. Mr. Turpen's firm collected $30 million.”

Edmondson just announced he is the first candidate for Governor to raise one million dollars in his campaign. A large majority of his contributions came from trial attorneys, many who also just happen to be on retainer by the state as outside counsel.

If the current hiring “outside counsel” process isn’t corrupt, then what’s wrong with opening it up by competitively bidding the process? After all, it is taxpayer money and we have a right to know how our money is being spent. If we are getting a good deal, then why wouldn’t the firms that are getting the business be eager to bid? This ‘good ole boy’ practice and the fact it was not widely known to the average Oklahoman just reinforces that Oklahoma has a long way before we have true transparency in government.
Edmondson has a great Oklahoma political name. His father served in Congress and his uncle, J. Howard, was the youngest governor in Oklahoma history, just thirty three years old when he was elected in 1958. Drew has certainly won his share of statewide elections (three), but his resistance to tort reform makes him a poor choice to lead Oklahoma. Henry’s two terms have shown he doesn’t favor meaningful tort reform- an issue which impacts Oklahoma negatively. Edmondson would be more of the same and Oklahoma can ill afford to hold to a flawed philosophy of continuing to cater to trial attorneys in our state.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial OKLAHOMA’S FOOD POLICE!
by Steve Fair

The “food police” are in Oklahoma. A couple of Tulsa area legislators recently held an interim study on how to get “healthy” grocery stores to come to the Sooner state. State Reps. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, and Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, want to determine how to incentivize rural and urban grocers that offer healthy, affordable, locally-grown produce and products. In other words, they want to use taxpayer dollars to get “mom and pop” healthy grocers that would compete with Whole Foods or some similar retailer.

During the interim study, Landon Norton of the Oklahoma Department of Health said that a recent Centers for Disease Control report showed Oklahoma state healthy food retail policies would positively impact its residents’ consumption of fruits and vegetables. The report found that Oklahoma had far fewer healthy food retailers than the national average and “food deserts” or areas with little access to healthy foods. “Access is not what it could be, not what it needs to be,” Norton said.

Scott, D-Tulsa, said it is clear that encouraging healthy neighborhood grocers could trigger more Oklahomans to begin living healthier lifestyles. “Oklahomans rank dead last nationally when it comes to nutrition and are the most likely Americans to suffer heart disease,” Scott, D-Tulsa, said. “Though lawmakers can’t force people to become healthy overnight, I think we can make healthy options available to them, while helping to support our local farmers and producers.”

Scott Smith, who spoke during the study, owns the type of store Scott and Shumate want to encourage. The Blue Jackalope Grocery Store is a small neighborhood grocer and coffee shop located in Tulsa’s Crosbie Heights neighborhood. Smith sells locally grown produce and says he has created a “community center” in his store. “The whole thing is the wonderful sense of connectedness that has resulted from what we’ve done at the store,” Smith said.

“Incentivizing healthy grocers helps the economy, lowers health care costs and, most importantly, means Oklahomans won’t have to choose between convenience and health,” Scott said. “One way to incentivize them could be to amend the state’s quality jobs act to benefit grocers,” he said. The Oklahoma Healthy Corner Stores Initiative is the proposed title of the legislation he hopes to carry in the next legislative session.

“In too many areas of the state we lack access to affordable, high quality, fresh foods,” Scott said. “The Oklahoma Legislature needs to help these working families and at the same time help local growers and small businesses, making it a win-win for all Oklahomans.”

Of the top ten “health conscious grocers ranked by only one operates in Oklahoma. Whole Foods (279 stores in 38 states) has a store in Tulsa and has announced they will soon build a store in OKC. The new Classen Curve shopping center near the Chesapeake Energy campus is the likely location, but no formal announcement has been made. But what Scott and Shumate want to give incentives to are “mom and pop” healthy grocers, not Whole Foods. The two challenges for the smaller “healthy” retailer is a consistent source of supply- finding a niche wholesaler who specializes in “healthy” products and could they generate sufficient volume to make money? There are a few wholesalers, but none in the central part of the United States and the issue of volume would be anyone’s guess. While Scott and Shumate’s actions don’t raise to the level of some of the nation’s food police, they still need to mind their own business and stop trying to tell us how to eat.

Consider some of the radical actions by the “Food Police.” The Public Health Advocacy Institute served notice to eight of the largest food producers in America they will sue food producers if they do not change formulas to help “slim down” America. That explains why Oreos don’t have as much delicious filling as they used to.

A group of lawyers have said they plan to start suing doctors who do not adequately warn patients about obesity. In several states, including Texas, soda pop has been banned in schools, even diet, but fruit juice, which contains more calories than pop remains. In one Massachusetts city, fast food restaurants are “banned” from coming to town. The Center for Science in the Public Interest advocates treating candy like porn and putting it behind the counter to discourage sales. Texas Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs, who calls herself the “Food Czarina” says, shared sweets like birthday cakes should not be allowed in schools.

And it’s not just in the U.S. Did you know that in Canada, there is a “sin” tax on meals under $4 and in New Zealand, they “card”(check ages) when someone want to buy candy?

No matter how noble Scott and Shumate’s motives are, they are misguided. It is not the job of state government to tell Oklahomans what to eat and where to shop. With Oklahoma’s crumbling infrastructure and budget shortages, taxpayer dollars can be better spent dealing with real issues. Scott and Shumate should stay out of our cupboards.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial

by Steve Fair
In November 2010, Oklahoma voters will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would tie common education funding to a regional average of Oklahoma’s bordering states. The so-called HOPE amendment would force the state to fund common education at the same per student level as the surrounding state average. According to, the regional average spent for common education per student is $9,078 and Oklahoma’s funding is $7,615 per student- the lowest in the region.

Currently common education gets thirty six percent of the Oklahoma state annual budget- by far the largest allocation of any agency. If SQ 744 passes, common education would receive nearly one half of the state budget.

The actual ballot language for SQ 744 is:

The measure repeals a Section of the State Constitution. The repealed section required the Legislature annually to spend $42.00 for each common school student. Common schools offer pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.The measure also adds a new Article to the Constitution. It sets a minimum average amount the State must annually spend on common schools. It requires the State to spend annually, no less than the average amount spent on each student by the surrounding states. Those surrounding states are Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado and New Mexico. When the average amount spent by surrounding states declines, Oklahoma must spend the amount it spent the year before. The measure deals with money spend on day-to-day operations of the schools and school districts. This includes spending on instructions, support services and non-instruction services. The measure does not deal with money spent to pay debt, on buildings or on other capital needs.The measure requires that increased spending begin in the first fiscal year after its passage. It requires that the surrounding state average be met in the third fiscal year after passage.The measure does not raise taxes, nor does it provide new funding for the new spending requirements.

The last sentence of the measure is very revealing. Passage of the proposal would create an “unfunded” mandate. SQ 744 would require the state to provide funding, but suggests no method on how to get those funds. Chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget committee State Representative Ken Miller, R-Edmond, says, “While the petitioners of State Question 744 may be well-intended, the question is irresponsible-it is a zero-sum game where one budget component benefits to the detriment of the other vital state service like transportation, public safety and health care. If this state question is approved, the people’s representatives will not be able to prioritize competing needs and will have no say on the largest single component of the state’s budget. Instead education policy will be arbitrarily set by a rigid regional formula.”

Realistically, if SQ 744 passed, the legislature would be forced to either raise taxes or reduce funding to other agencies to meet the requirement 744 would mandate. Some estimates of other agency cuts range as high as twenty percent. According to the State House fiscal staff, if SQ # 744 passes, personal income tax would have to be raised from its current level of 5.5% to more than 7% to raise the money SQ 744 mandates.

Here are just three reasons State Question 744 should not be approved:

First, forcing state government to increase funding to common education based on what bordering states are doing will not improve Oklahoma education. Oklahoma has a more fundamental problem- it is how we spend our education dollar. We have too many school districts. Oklahoma has 554 school districts, Kansas 304, Arkansas 271, Colorado 178 and New Mexico only has 84. Each of Oklahoma’s five hundred plus districts have buildings, buses and bosses. Consolidation is not a word anyone likes to utter, but if education wants to get serious about education and get the money to the classroom where it really makes a difference, the “C” word will have to discussed.

Second, education funding is not the only thing we need to improve in Oklahoma. Our state has crumbling infrastructure that is dangerous for school buses(or any other vehicle) to travel on. Oklahoma also ranks high in mental health issues, obesity, and drug use. If SQ 744 passes, either huge tax increases would need to be implemented or those infrastructure and social ills would face funding cuts. Neither alternative seems wise concerning these tough economic times.

Third, Oklahoman’s tax burden is high enough. According to The Tax Foundation, Oklahoma's taxpayers have gone from the 42nd highest state and local tax burden in 1977 to the 19th highest in 2008. Estimated at 9.8% of income, Oklahoma's current state/local tax burden is above the national average. Oklahomans pay $3,761 per capita in state and local taxes.

It is true that teachers are underpaid in Oklahoma. They rank a dismal 47th in the country among their peers, but all Oklahoma workers are unpaid. The average Oklahoman earns $5,000 less than the average American doing the same job. US Census data indicates that only two of our bordering states have lower per capita income than Oklahoma, but SQ # 744 is not the answer- it just creates more questions.