Monday, May 27, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
NEW STATE AGENCY NOT NEEDED!
by Steve Fair
Last week, the Oklahoma legislature passed and Governor Stitt signed HB 2765 which appropriated $8.1 billion to state agencies and placed $200 million in savings. The $8.3 billion dollar budget included $157 million for common education(K-12 public schools), with a raise for public school teachers of $1,200 and money earmarked for school district to hire more classroom teachers. State employees got a raise as well (up to $1,300 annually), and $1.7 million was appropriated to create a new state agency called the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT), which is to be a bipartisan committee that would conduct performance audits on state agencies.
First, this is the largest Oklahoma state government budget in history. The first year Republicans took over the legislature (2006), the state budget was $5.95 billion. In just thirteen years, the state budget has increased +28.3%,slightly more than the rate of inflation. Republicans gained control of the legislature by promising to reduce government’s footprint, but the fact is the rate of spending is no different than the Democrats. Tax revenue is at an all-time high- under Republican control. Sir Winston Churchill said a government that tries to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. It’s like a poor person trying to spend their way to wealth. It will not work.
Second, why do we need another state agency to conduct performance audits on state agencies? Isn’t that the job of the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s office? Instead of funding the constitutionally created Auditor’s office to conduct performance audits, the legislature creates an agency that will report directly to them? This doesn’t make sense- or maybe it does. If the issue is about accountability, creating a new state agency is hypocritical. No one is more accountable than an elected official and the elected official in Oklahoma who is charged with auditing is the State Auditor’s office, not the legislature. Audits shouldn’t be political and controlled by politicians. Performance audits should be done on every entity that gets a dime of state tax dollars and it should be done by someone accountable to Oklahoma taxpayers- the State Auditor and Inspector.
Third, expect Oklahoma public school student test scores to significantly improve in the coming years. With the investment and commitment Oklahoma taxpayers are making in common education, public schools are under pressure to perform. For years, common education leaders have said if Oklahoma classroom teachers were paid at the regional average, student test scores would improve to the regional average. The investment has been made- now it’s time for education to deliver results.
The legislature adjourned on Friday Sine Die (Latin meaning no set day to return), a week before the law prescribes they had to adjourn. Many observers gave the legislature and the newly elected governor high marks for getting done early and agreeing on a budget. But spending more money because you have more money because you passed historic tax increases last year isn’t the way to turn around Oklahoma- it’s a way to continue down the same path.
Monday, May 20, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
THE GREAT DIVIDE!
by Steve Fair
The 2020 Democrat race for the presidential nomination has drawn 23 candidates. Former Vice President Joe Biden, seven US current Senators, six current and former members of the House of Representatives, four mayors, three governors, one businessman, and one self-help author are in the race. In recent polling, Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders are tied in Iowa- the first state to kick off presidential primaries. Of the 615 likely caucus-goers in Iowa, Sanders and Biden had 24%, followed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 14%, Senator Elizabeth Warren at 12%, Senator Kamala Harris at 10% and Beto O’Rouke at 5%. Second choices are very important in Iowa because a candidate must get 15% to get delegates to the national convention. Warren is the second choice of 19% of those polled followed by Biden, Harris and Sanders. A third of Warren’s second choice supporters list Sanders as their first choice. In the Real Clear Politics average national poll, Biden leads Sanders 39% to 16%. In a projected matchup against President Trump, the former VP bests him 42% to 36%, but the only poll that matters is the one on November 3, 2020.
Last week at a campaign rally, Joe Biden said anger is ripping the country apart and the Democrat nominee needed to help unified the country. He described President Trump as the Divider-in Chief, who inherited a good economy and doesn’t understand the role of government. He criticized his primary opponents for promoting disunity and fueling anger. Clearly Biden’s strategy is to appeal to the more moderate Democrats and concede the radical left to Sanders while making himself acceptable to them if he gets the nomination. Two thoughts:
First, Biden is right about anger ripping America apart. Confrontation, contention, and strife rein in politics. Civil discourse is all but dead. Disagreement and differing opinions are not tolerated. Respect for the other person’s right to express their first amendment rights is ignored. The extreme wings- in both Parties- have created a toxic environment where little gets done but self-promoting banter. While Biden may have re-branded himself as the ‘cool head in the room’, he was the Vice President in the most partisan administration in American history, which fueled much of the cultural divide we see today.
Second, America has changed. We are not the country of just 50 years ago. We have deliberately shifted from Judeo-Christian ethics, which recognizes the Creator from which we derive our rights, to a focus on personal individual rights, liberty, and freedom. Americans not only want the government to leave them alone, but the Creator as well. And it appears He has. Interest in the things of God is at an all-time low in America. The depravity of man’s sin nature is on full display.The only thing that will cool the anger in America is the gospel of Christ. Until God regenerates individual Americans, the divide will continue to grow. Christians should spend more time lobbying Him to have mercy on our country and less time arguing with those who are unregenerate
Monday, May 13, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
Governor Kevin Stitt has nominated Estella Hernandez and Jennifer Monies to serve on the Oklahoma state school board. The nominations require Senate confirmation.
Mrs. Hernandez was brought to the United States from El Salvador by her mother when she was six years old because her mom was escaping a civil war and wanted a better life for herself and her children. Estela became a U.S. naturalized citizen at age 18 as soon as it was legal to do so. She still attends the monthly nationalization ceremonies at the federal courthouse in OKC where she helps register the new citizens to vote. She and her husband Zeke have two daughters and one son. She is a licensed realtor and she and her husband run a construction company. Hernadez is a former Vice Chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party, spokesperson for Mundo Fox- Oklahoma City and briefly worked for conservative think-tank Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs(OCPA).
Mrs. Monies lives in OKC and has two children. She is an award winning journalist who has worked for Congressional Quarterly and The Oklahoman. She served as press and policy advisor for the Oklahoma state House of Representatives, and ran an education nonprofit organization. She now works for Saxum, an OKC based Public Affairs Company.
Traditionally, the senator from the nominee’s district carry/present the nominations to the Senate. It is more of a formality than a necessity, and in the past even those from opposing political Parties carried their constituent’s nomination to the body. But last week that changed. Senate Carrie Hicks, (D-OKC) announced that she will not carry Hernandez and Monies’ nominations because she says they support school choice(vouchers) and local school board control. “Both pretty well indicated that they would use the power the state Legislature has entrusted into them to override those local school board decisions. That’s just a disagreement that I can’t support,” Hicks said. Hicks’ refusal to carry the nominations doesn’t kill them, but her state reasons for not doing it bring up some interesting questions:
First, what is wrong with school choice? Why is Oklahoma public education so afraid of competition? If they believe they are doing a good job, then why oppose a parent’s right to choose to take their tax money and spend it as they please on their child’s education? Good schools don’t require compulsory tax support and bad ones don’t deserve it.
Second, what is wrong with local school board control? Local schools should have the flexibility to adapt. Centralized mandates on education from ivory towers haven’t resulted in Oklahoma’s common ed producing better results. Expanding local control of education should be something every Oklahoman supports.
Senator Hicks is one of only nine Democrats in the Senate and her unwillingness to carry the nominations will not likely result in two qualified nominees not being confirmed. But as a former classroom teacher, Hicks should recognize what Oklahoma has been doing in common education is not working and embrace new ideas from qualified citizens. Contact your state senator and encourage them to support the nomination of both these state school board nominees.
Monday, May 6, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
LEGISLATURE WINDING DOWN SESSION!
by Steve Fair
The Oklahoma legislature is winding down the 2019 session. By law, lawmakers are required to complete the 2019 regular session by May 31st at 5pm. They have yet to pass a budget, but that is normal. Traditionally that has been one of the last things they get hammered out. With the Senate, the House and the Governor all having their versions of a budget, a ‘meetings of the minds’ must take place before success is achieved. They have also not agreed on whether to give a $1,200 pay raise to classroom teachers or to adjust the common education funding formula letting local school districts determine if they want to fund staff or use for other purposes. There is also a proposal to expand Medicaid in the Sooner state, mirrored after a similar program in Arkansas and several other states. Critics, including conservative think tank OCPA, claim Medicaid expansion in those states has been a failure.
While efficiency and cooperation between the governor and the legislature was much improved this session, Governor Stitt did veto several bills sent to his desk this year; They include one that would have allowed professional hunting and fishing guides on state owned land, another would have allowed overtime pay for state employees, one involved police and fire unions, and a common education bill changing how expenses could be classified. They joined the first bill Stitt vetoed, which would have created a task force for home health recipients. It does not appear the legislature will attempt to overturn any of the bills vetoed by Governor Stitt.
Oklahoma government budget will be the largest in state history. No matter which version is agreed upon, this budget will be historical. That is primarily due to increased revenue coming into state coffers from the record tax increases passed last year. Some legislators are lobbying to place a significant amount of the increased revenue into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, others favor spending it. As one Republican lawmaker said, “it’s not a matter of if Oklahoma government will experience a downturn, it’s a matter of when.” The legislature should fully fund the Rainy Day Fund.
Criminal justice reform is another hot topic being debated in the legislature. After the changes brought about when SQ #780 and #781 were approved by voters in 2016, many crimes that were formerly felonies are now misdemeanors. After being shamed by do-gooders embarrassed by Oklahoma’s incarnation rates, voters went to the polls and voted de-criminalize and reclassify many crimes. It’s no wonder the state’s DAs and law enforcement community are up in arms. Releasing criminals early is bad enough, but when crime is decriminalized, honest citizens are placed in harm’s way. Lowering the incarnation rate in Oklahoma is a great goal, but de-criminalizing and reclassifying crime is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Oklahoma’s reputation should be; ‘you do the crime-you do the time.’
On Saturday May 18th, the SCGOP will hold their 15th annual Fish Fry at the SC Fairgrounds. This year’s keynote speaker is Governor Kevin Stitt. This event has become the single largest gathering of Republicans in the state each year outside a state GOP convention. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.