Monday, February 25, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
AUDITS AND ZBB!
by Steve Fair
On Wednesday, the Oklahoma state board of Equalization certified $8.2 billion for next year’s state government budget. That is $574.5 million more than last year. The amount was $37.8 million less than what was initially certified in December, much of that due to the slowing of oil and gas exploration. The bottom line is the legislature will have substantially more money to spend than last year and they went right to work spending it.
On Thursday, HB#1780, authored by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, passed the House 94-0. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, it will provide a $1,200 across the board pay raise for public school teachers. “I have said many times that the pay raise last year was a good first step, but my goal is to get our teachers to number one in the region in pay.” McCall said.
Governor Stitt asked the legislature to pass the pay hike in his State of the State address. The $1,200 is on top of the $6,000 the legislature gave teachers last year and will make Oklahoma teachers the highest paid in the six state region. Seeing an opportunity, the education lobby said they want more and plan to press lawmakers to increase funding even more.
Virtually every state agency has also said they want part of the additional revenue. After three lean years, they want funding and staffing restored to past levels. All of the large agencies and many of the smaller ones employ outside lobbyists at taxpayer expense to lobby for more of your tax dollars. This was a practice Governor Stitt condemned during this campaign, said he would work to stop after his inauguration, but so far, the lobbyists are still on the job, ‘educating’ the legislators at 23rd and Lincoln. Three observations:
First, where are the audits? During the campaign, every candidate for governor, including then candidate for Governor Stitt, talked constantly about audits. Yet, a month after taking office, the governor has yet to order these comprehensive performance audits he promised that drew applause on the campaign trail. Are they going to be done or was that just a campaign talking point? The legislature- and the governor- should want to know where the need and the waste is at in state government before the budget process begins.
Second, the time to save money is when you have some. This year’s revenue will have many state lawmakers looking for new exciting programs to fund and bureaucrats will line up with ideas. This is the perfect time to start Zero Based Budgeting(ZBB), a system that requires justification of every single penny in a budget. It is used by most consumer product goods companies(CPG). Saturday’s Wall Street Journal had a full page article about ZBB used by CPGs and how it cut expenses.
Third, the legislature needs to remember who is paying the bills. Government consumes- the private sector creates. Paying teachers the regional average is admirable, but doing it on the backs of hard working Oklahomans who struggle to make it is not wise and it is not sustainable.
Turning Oklahoma around will not start with bureaucrats- it will start with the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Work at getting them to the regional average and everything else will fall into line.
Monday, February 18, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
The Pharisees were an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written Mosaic Law. They took great pride in their sanctity. In other words, they were proud of not being proud. They bragged about what they did and what they didn’t do. They were very disciplined and looked down their nose at those who weren’t. They were experts in the law, quoted it at every turn and condemned anyone who disagreed with them. We know about the Pharisees from the New Testament and their conflicts with John the Baptist and Jesus. The modern day equivalent of a Pharisee is those that condemn any opposing viewpoint. They show a complete lack of respect for their fellow man, set their selves up as morally superior and fail to recognize their own inherent depravity. They fail to understand there was only one perfect person and it ain’t you.
There is a right way to stand for truth. Taking a stand against clear error is an honorable goal, and sometimes being contentious is necessary, but it should be a proper contention and not one that disrupts peace. Proper contention is loving and kind, not condemning and divisive. It is based on absolute divine truth and not human opinion. It is done with humility and thoughtfulness.
Jesus said the Pharisees were blinded to the truth. America is a land full of blind people who need their eyes opened. Arguing with them, yelling at them and confronting them because they are stumbling in the wrong direction will do no good. God has to open their eyes.
A political Pharisee is no different than a secular one. They believe if they work hard enough they will change things. They just need to contend longer and harder. They believe God is completely dependent on their feeble efforts to accomplish His will, so instead of spending time on their knees before a holy sovereign Creator who can change hearts in an instant, they get on a soapbox and insult anyone who disagrees with them- all in the name of truth. By doing that, they often bring shame upon the very cause they claim to promote.
Christians are exhorted to ‘earnestly contend for the faith.’ That means the Gospel- the good news. The simple message that man is without hope outside of Christ and he can’t do any good work to have that hope. It’s not enough to believe in God. It requires a personal relationship with Jesus. The gospel is the only hope for America- and the world.
Throughout history, those in error have been the most confrontational, not those contending for the truth. But sadly, that has changed. Speaking the truth in love has been abandoned for name calling, character assassination, mischaracterization, and sensationalism. Using exciting, shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy to provoke interest or excitement is more fun than quietly contending for the truth, but it’s not the right way.
Sunday, February 10, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
DEMOCRATS ADVOCATE SOCIALISM!
by Steve Fair
At the State of the Union address, President Trump declared, "Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” CNN’s instant poll said 76% of Americans approved of that statement. "Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country," the president said. "America was founded on liberty and independence - not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free." Senator Bernie Sanders, (I-VT), an avowed socialist, frowned at the president’s remarks, but most Democrat members did stand after Trump’s statement.
Socialism is an economic system where the ways of making a living (factories, offices, etc.) are owned by society as a whole, instead of private owners. Socialists believe that production and distribution of goods should be controlled by the government rather than private enterprise. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them. To be fair, Bernie Sanders and other socialists in Congress have never called for government takeover of private business. Their socialist model is more like Europe’s, where social safety nets (health care, housing, food stamps) are paid for by higher tax rates. The U.S. has moved closer to the European model in recent years,
Socialism rewards mediocrity while capitalism rewards those who are productive. Capitalism is freedom, socialism is economic slavery. Capitalism promotes a free market- socialism works to control the market. President Reagan said, "Millions of individuals making their own decisions in the marketplace will always allocate resources better than any centralized government planning process."
Few schools teach the difference between the economic systems, so many young people gravitate to socialism since it seems fairer to everyone. Recent polls show more than 40% of those under 30 years of age flavorfully view socialism. But they should be careful what they wish for. Sir Winston Churchill said, "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries." America has moved closer and closer to the European model in recent years, but ultimately every socialist system fails. A classic example is Venezuela, a purely socialist country, in both governmental and economic crisis.
John Galbraith, a liberal economist and an advocate of socialism, said in 1970 that Democrats should use the term socialism because it described what was needed in America. But after receiving negative feedback, the Ds dropped in tag in subsequent years. With the recent election of two members of Congress who are openly socialist, perhaps that is changing.Based on what President Trump said in the State of the Union, it is clear he plans to hang the socialist label on the Democrats in 2020. Democrats deserve the tag since their political philosophy has moved to more government intervention and more taxes. Trump’s strategy is sound, since the vast majority of Americans do not agree with socialism.
Monday, February 4, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
TURNAROUND OR PROCESSION?
by Steve Fair
On Monday, the Oklahoma legislature convened and Governor Kevin Stitt delivered his first ‘State of the State’ address to a joint session of the legislature. Stitt began his speech with these words: “My vision for Oklahoma is very clear and simple: to make Oklahoma a Top 10 state.” He outlined three steps to move the Sooner state from the bottom third to the top ten: (1) Bring Oklahomans together from throughout the state to serve in critical leadership roles. (2) Set measurable goals for state employees, agency heads and his staff to be a part of one team working to accomplish one vision, (3) Hold Oklahoma elected officials accountable for delivering results.
In the speech, Stitt proposed a $1,200 per year teacher pay raise, which comes on top of the $6,100 the legislature passed last year. If approved by the legislature and signed into law, Oklahoma public school teachers will be the highest paid in the six-state region. “We will invest in the classroom. But we must first continue our investment in the teacher, because it’s not programs, curriculum, or resources that students will remember. The magic happens between the student and the teacher in the classroom,” the newly elected governor said. Stitt believes a quality public school system will grow Oklahoma’s economy. Let’s hope so. The butchers, bakers and candlestick makers would like to share in the wealth. They are paid much less than the regional average.
The governor said every decision in his administration will have the goal of promoting a healthy economy in the Sooner state. “The government does not create wealth, only the private sector can,” Stitt said.
Last year, the Republican controlled state legislature passed record tax increases to plug revenue shortfalls. The oil and gas industry rebounded and the shortfalls wasn’t as short as thought. In December, the Oklahoma State Board of Equalization estimated the legislature will have a minimum of $612 million more to spend this year vs. last year. That is due to the increased oil and gas exploration in the state, an industry that is very cyclical and unpredictable. There is no guarantee those funds will be there in 2020. The legislature needs to be prudent and not spend every dime of revenue that comes in. A downturn is certain and to be ill prepared will result in the same circumstance as last year.
Two things blatantly missing from Stitt’s speech were performance audits and the elimination of state payer funded lobbyists. Over the course of the last year, his stump speech has always included performance audits of state agencies. He should press the legislature to fund the Auditors office to conduct the audits.
The governor’s speech was much like his campaign- long on energy but short on specifics. In order to make a lasting impact, he needs to move from campaigning to governing. He needs to audit every entity that gets one dime of state tax dollars. Root out waste, fraud and abuse first, then fund accordingly. Spending money isn’t a turnaround- it’s the same old procession and that won’t make Oklahoma a top ten state.