Monday, October 28, 2013

Retirement Lottery!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
Wouldn’t it be great if you could retire with a pension that paid you more than you made when you worked?  That’s doesn’t often happen in the private sector, but according to Gary Jones, Oklahoma’s State Auditor and Inspector, over 500 retired Oklahoma elected officials are drawing more taxpayer money in retirement than they did when they were in office.  How is that possible?  

In 1988, the Democrat controlled legislature passed a bill that allowed an Oklahoman who toiled for years as a state or county employee to hit the retirement lottery if they managed to be elected to public office.  Governor Henry Bellmon, a Republican, vetoed the bill, but the Democrat legislature overrode the veto.  The bill provided that when an elected official retired, their higher pension rate as an elected official was applied not only to their elected years, but also to the years they were a non-elected employee.   
For example, former Oklahoma State Auditor Clifton Scott who worked 20 years in state government before being elected Auditor and served 20 years as Auditor.  Scott now draws 160% of the average of his final three years salary- around $147,000 annually.  He is just one example.  Jones said this loophole has cost Oklahoma taxpayers over a billion dollars.  The legislature closed the ‘loophole’ in 2008, but these overpayments continue to those who were ‘grandfathered.’ into the old formula.
Past Oklahoma legislatures didn’t just ‘feather their own nests.’  They promised teachers and state employees pension benefits and then didn’t fund their pension plans.  Their irresponsible behavior created a shortfall of over $11 billion dollars in the seven pension plans managed by the state.  Since Republicans took over the legislature in 2006, they have made progress in the Oklahoma pension fund crisis, but they the pension plan are still only about two thirds funded.

Three observations:

First, elected officials are public servants.  They deserve to be paid for their work and are entitled to a competitive wage and benefits, but having a retirement pension that is more than double what they made as an elected official is ridiculous.  Most contributed little to their retirement fund.  What’s unfair about stopping the overpayment to retired elected officials the portion of their pension they didn’t earn?   There would be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, but all good things must come to an end. 

Second, this crisis was created by ethical lapses by past legislatures.  Pension benefits were promised, but funds were not appropriated to fund the benefits.  The vast majority of the participants in the seven state pension plans are average folks (teachers, firefighters, state employees) who have contributed to and earned their retirement.  It’s important for the plans to be solvent.  Participants need to remember the current legislators are part of the solution, not the problem.    

Third, the solution will require time.  These pension funds didn’t get into this mess overnight and the solution to fix them will take time.  There are proposals to have new hires in state government in a ‘matching fund’ pension plan similar to a 401K.  Some want to consolidate the funds, but consolidation will not save near enough money to fix the issue.  Raising taxes to fund the plans has also been proposed. 

A recent poll by Wells Fargo published in Forbes magazine found an alarming 37% of middle class Americans believe they’ll work until they’re too sick or until they die.  Another 34% believes retirement will come at the ripe age of 80.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than one in five private sector workers qualify for a pension.  It’s a grim look at the state of retirement which seems to be getting worse for middle class Americans.  The gap between pension plans in the private and public sector continues to widen.    
What would make it worse would be for hardworking Oklahoma taxpayers to be saddled with a tax increase to pay pension benefits for retired elected officials who didn’t earn them.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

 People often ask me the difference between the Republican Party and the Democrat Party.  “All political parties are alike,” they will often say, but is that true?  Not really.  I want to point three distinct differences between the two major political parties:

     First, the Republican Party is a party of limited government, Democrats believe in an expanded government.  Republicans believe in empowering individuals and businesses.  They believe that government should have just enough revenue to provide basic core services, aka roads, infrastructure, law enforcement.  Republicans believe in providing those in real need with a hand up, but not a long term hand-out.  The Democrat Party believes government has a moral obligation to provide for citizens.  In addition to core services, they believe the government should provide food, shelter and health care for every citizen.  The money to provide those programs are collected from the general public in the form of taxes and then redistributed to those in need.

     Second, the Republican Party believes that life begins at conception; Democrats believe it begins at birth.  According to, there is a universal consensus in the scientific community as to when life begins.  They state, According to most elementary definition of life, life begins at fertilization, when a sperm unites with an oocyte. From that moment, the being is highly organized, has the ability to acquire materials and energy, has the ability to respond to his or her environment, has the ability to adapt, and has the ability to reproduce (the cells divide, then divide again, etc., and barring pathology and pending reproductive maturity has the potential to reproduce other members of the species).  Non-living things do not do these things.  Even before the mother is aware that she is pregnant, a distinct, unique life has begun his or her existence inside her.”  U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Florida), chair of the Democratic National Committee, says defining that human life begins at conception is “an extreme and radical step.”  The Democrat Party national platform statement on abortion says; The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.  

     Third, the Republican Party believes in the right to keep and bear arms, Democrats believe in restricting personal gun ownership.  Democrats favor more gun control laws e.g. oppose the right to carry concealed weapons in public places. Republicans oppose gun control laws and are strong supporters of the Second Amendment as well as the right to carry concealed weapons for self defense. 

     In general Democrats tend to favor an active role for government in society and believe that such involvement – be it environmental regulations against polluting or anti-discrimination laws – can improve the quality of people’s lives and help achieve the larger goal of opportunity and equality. On the other hand, Republicans tend to favor a limited role for government in society and believe that such reliance on the private sector (businesses and individuals) – be it avoiding unnecessary environmental regulations or anti-discrimination laws – can improve economic productivity and help achieve the larger goals of freedom and self-reliance.
       Remember your party affiliation is your first vote!  Are you aligned with your values?
     For more information on the difference in the two major parties, go to

Monday, October 14, 2013


Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

     In July, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the former Governor of Kansas, said the government was ‘on target’ to handle the anticipated volume to the federal health care exchange site.  Last month, Gary Cohen, the federal official in charge of health insurance exchanges, promised federal legislators that, “on October 1st ‘consumers will be able to go online, they’ll be able to get a determination of what tax subsidies they are eligible for, they’ll be able to see the premium net of subsidy,’ and they will be able to sign up.”  Right.
     Now even some supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry the flaws in the system, if not quickly fixed, could threaten the fiscal health of the insurance initiative, which depends on throngs of customers to ‘spread the risk’ and keep prices low.   
     Despite repeated warnings the system was faulty, the Obama administration went ahead with the federal health care exchange. Back in April, ObamaCare architect and U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), said “I just see a huge train wreck coming down if we don’t get some of the glitches fixed.”
     Even the chief digital architect for the Obama administration’s online insurance marketplace had his doubts about the system.  In March, Henry Chao told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. ‘Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,’ he told them. 
     Welcome to the third world. 
      A week after the federal Web site opened, technical problems continue to plague the system. Officials said they are working 24 hours a day to improve the system and that they were confident it would soon be able to meet the demand. They added that there was ample time to correct the site to allow consumers to get insured by January 1st.  Some estimate it will take months for the federal government to get the system up and functioning as it should.
     Four observations:
     First, the Obama administration had ample time to get this right.  They knew that states were opting out of creating their own exchanges and that would increase traffic to the federal site.  This was not a big surprise.  They were just unprepared.  They failed because they failed to plan.  They should have delayed implementation until they were sure the system could handle the volume.
     Second, simply delaying the implementation would have been reasonable and logical.  The reason they forged ahead is because they rightly fear they will lose control of Congress in the mid term elections.  They believe it is a likely possibility the Affordable Care Act will be repealed and if they delay they will miss the opportunity to move America to a federal government controlled health care system.
     Third, this online digital system has cost taxpayers $400 million and counting!  That is just for the computer system to sign up consumers! That doesn’t include the cost to taxpayers for the government subsidies the Affordable Care Act provides those who sign up online.  This program simply costs too much and we don’t have the money to provide health care to every American. 
     Fourth, many Americans are finding their out of pocket costs of the ACA are higher than advertised.  In many cases across the country, consumers are finding that out of pocket deductibles and monthly premiums are more than they anticipated.         
     Elections have consequences and implementation of poor policy also has consequences.  The reaping of those consequences may be seen in the 2014 midterm elections next November.

Monday, October 7, 2013

J.C. Watts for ??????

Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair
On Saturday morning in Tulsa, former 4th district Congressman J.C. Watts spoke at a re-election fundraiser for Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett.  Watts can still draw a crowd, even on a chilly Saturday morning, and is still a rock star in politics.  After wholeheartedly endorsing Bartlett for re-election, JC laid out some very important principles for every American.

First, it’s important to be involved in politics at the local level.  J.C. correctly pointed out the government closest to you has the most influence on your life.  Using his former congressional district- the 4th- as an example, he pointed out that when he was elected to Congress in 1995, there was only two Republican state legislators out of twenty one from south of I40 and west of I35.  In 2013, there are only three Democrats in that quadrant of the state.  Why the change?  Because conservative Democrats came to the realization they were really Republican and started to vote that way.    “Politics is local,” Watts said.  “The Democrats figured that out years ago. They won the city council and mayor’s races.  They won the school board and the county commissioner races while Oklahoma Republicans were winning the Congressional races.  The Republicans in the 4th district of Oklahoma made a difference by winning the local races and ultimately changed Oklahoma with that strategy.”  Why have Republicans fared better in the 4th district of Oklahoma than other parts of the state in the past decade?  Local Republican activists have educated the public on the issues and have labored tirelessly in local races.

Second, Watts said the Republican Party needs to look like heaven.  Watts, a Baptist preacher, wasn’t saying the GOP is heavenly in their behavior.  He was pointing out how the GOP needs to be diverse and embrace all races and people groups.  His message is simple; don’t skip anybody!  In the past, political hacks/consultants convinced GOP candidates and party leaders to skip minority neighborhoods because the minorities didn’t vote for Republicans.  That strategy became a self fulfilling prophecy.  GOP candidates didn’t ask for their vote, so they didn’t vote for the GOP candidate.  Thankfully that is changing.  Republican values know no racial, ethic or economic boundary. 

Third, Watts said politics needs to be more civil.  “I have met some really nice Democrats through the years,” Watts said.  “I don’t agree with them politically, but we have a very civil relationship.”  His point is that rational people can disagree.  “We can’t just arrogantly thumb our nose at anyone who disagrees with us, Watts said.  “We need to make sure we are nice.  Nice goes a long way with me.”  That simple admonition is something all politicos- no matter your party affiliation- should heed.  No matter the issue, no matter the circumstance, we need to be civil and respectful in our debate.

When asked when he was going to run for elective office again, Watts said, “I can see myself in public office five years from now and I can see myself not in public office.”  How’s that for clarity?  “But I don’t ever see myself as part of a body- like back in Congress,” J.C. concluded.  Hummm.