Sunday, May 28, 2023

When the Politicos start bragging about what they accomplished, remember what they didn't!

Weekly Opinion Editorial 


by Steve Fair


     The Oklahoma legislature adjourned Sine Die (Latin for no appointed date for resumption) on Friday.  The Oklahoma Constitution requires lawmakers to complete their regular session by the last Friday in May each year.  The last week of session was a whirlwind of activity.  The legislature passed a record $12.8 billion dollar state budget.  $11.3 billion (88.3%) of the total is what is referred to as ‘recurring appropriation.’  That means it is money they plan to appropriate from now on, barring any unforeseen circumstances.   They appropriated $3.9 billion for the state Department of Education, a 21% increase over last year.  Most other state agencies got slight increases.  There were no board-based tax cuts- the state income tax wasn’t reduced and Sooners will still pay sales tax on groceries.  The legislature did agree to tax credits for those who send their kids to private schools or homeschool. 

    Lawmakers spent a great deal of time overriding Governor Stitt’s vetoes from April.  They overrode thirteen (13) on Thursday.  One of the most notable is HB#2263, which changes how the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) will be organized.  It reduces the number of appointments by the governor to two (he had six) and gives the Speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tempore two appointments each. The vote, in both chambers, to override Stitt’s veto of HB#2263 was overwhelming.

     The governor has until Thursday, June 1st to sign or veto the historic budget bill.  He has until June 10th to act on the bills that were passed in the last week.  If he vetoes, lawmakers will be back in OKC on June 12th, but they can only deal with the bills from the concurrent special session.  They can not deal with legislation vetoed from the regular session.  Confused?  Join the club.  Three observations:

     First, Oklahoma taxpayers didn’t get the tax cut they were promised.  Republican legislators and the governor have been telling constituents for years they were going to cut the state income tax…the very next session.  Yet another year/session goes by without a cut. It is reported the governor is not happy about that, but after four months of session and over a year of negotiating, the only loser is the taxpayers.  Oklahoma taxpayers should be asking their legislators why the tax cut was held up again.

     Every Republican serving in the legislature included ‘fiscal conservative’ in their campaign materials.  A fiscal conservative is one who advocates tax cuts, reduced government spending, free markets, deregulation, privatization, free trade and minimal government debt. Voters brought into their message. They elected them, believing they would go to the Capitol and be a good steward of tax dollars. If the current slate of elected officials can’t work together and get it done, perhaps they should go home and let someone else take a crack at it.

     Second, diluting political power makes for better government.  Reforming the appointment process for the OTA is long overdue.  There are several other boards and commissions in Oklahoma state government that should undergo the same scrutiny.  When one person is given sovereign control of a board, that board becomes nothing more than a rubber stamp to ratify everything the designator wants.   

     Third, Oklahomans should expect/demand more and better from the legislature.  Republicans gained control of the state House in 2004, after nearly a century of Democrat control.  They gained control of the state Senate in 2008.  The Rs were swept into power by promising to spend less money, cut taxes, repair the crumbling infrastructure and root out corruption.  They have consistently failed to deliver on the first two.  Republican elected leadership- executive and legislative- must do better.  Voters/taxpayers should require it. 

     In coming days, state legislators and the governor will be boasting and bragging about what they accomplished for Oklahoma in the 59th session of the legislature.  Taxpayers should remember what they failed to accomplish.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Expect the ‘Chicken Little/Debt Ceiling,’ performance to keep making curtain calls!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair


     The debt ceiling is the maximum amount the U.S. government can borrow by issuing bonds.  The U.S. Treasury Department must find other ways to pay expenses when the debt ceiling is reached, otherwise there is a risk the county will default on its debt.  Since 1960, Congress has raised, extended, or revised the debt limit 78 times.  49 of those were under Republican presidents and 29 times under a Democrat president.   In recent years, raising the cap has become a political football.  Since raising the debt ceiling is a so-called ‘must-pass’ bill, both political Parties use it to gain leverage for concessions.  Three observations:

     First, House Republicans have put a solid proposal on the table.  In late April, the U.S. House narrowly passed a bill that raises the debt ceiling while cutting spending by 14% over the next ten years.  It also rolled back some health mandates and climate change recently implemented by the Biden administration.  It also expanded gas and oil exploration.  The bill had no chance of being passed in the Democratic controlled Senate and immediately upon its passage Biden said he would veto it if it got to his desk. 

     Second, Democrats have put no proposal on the table.  Their position is to just raise the ceiling- no concessions, no spending cuts.  In the past, the Ds have used the debt ceiling crisis to raise taxes on the American people, but raising taxes isn’t in this year’s playbook.  With increasing inflation, they recognize raising taxes would be an unpopular move and would hurt them in the 2024 elections.  Democrats instead have focused their attack on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), telling him to ‘put the pin back in the grenade.’  They anticipate the Rs will cave to public pressure.   

     Third, fiscal issues are going to be the ruin of America.  The federal national debt is $32 trillion dollars ($95,000 for every man, woman and child) and growing at an accelerating pace.  The federal government- both Parties- spend too much money.  Three years ago, a bi-partisan group of 60 House members introduced HR 6139 that proposed raising the debt ceiling if government spending were reduced by just 5% over ten years.  It failed.  Reasonable proposals to get spending under control are attacked as extreme.  Shifting debt to future generations is irresponsible and immoral, but the federal government has been doing it for decades. 

     In years past, conservatives were defined by their position on fiscal issues.  Conservatives today are more interested in liberty, personal freedom, and government overreach- all while the fiscal house is ablaze. Like an expanding credit card balance, the national debt continues to escalate, waiting for a responsible generation to pay it off. 

     Ten years ago, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, (R-OK), said the debt ceiling doesn’t exist and the U.S. would not default if the limit wasn’t raised.  “The debt ceiling has never not been raised, so there is no debt ceiling.  Having a debt ceiling and then automatically raising it every time allows politicians off the hook for making hard choices.  I am not saying we shouldn’t pay our bills.  What I am saying is we should put ourselves in the position to have to make hard choices regarding spending,”  Coburn said.

     In his book, “The Debt Limit,” Coburn exhorts Americans to stop blaming lobbyists and special interests for the gridlock and obstructionism in the U.S. government.  He blames citizens for not holding members of Congress-in both Parties- accountable for refusing to take bold steps of action to get the government spending under control. 

     Until more conservatives pay attention to fiscal issues, hold elected officials accountable , and demand spending cuts, expect the ‘Chicken Little/Debt Ceiling,’ performance to keep making curtain calls.         

Sunday, May 14, 2023

The reddest state in America should have more influence in the process to select a presidential nominee!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     The Republican Party selects a presidential nominee through a process of primaries and caucuses in each state that bind convention ‘delegates’ to candidates.  The whole presidential nomination process is governed by rule 40 of the national Republican Party rules.  A presidential nominee must have the support of a majority of the delegates at the national convention.  The GOP, in each state, determine how to select their national delegates.  Some states are winner-take-all, others proportional.  In a winner-take-all state, the top vote getter earns all the delegates.  In a proportional state, a candidate getting 20% or more of the vote earn delegates.  Oklahoma is a proportion allocated state, as are most states.  Seventeen states are winner-take-all.  Three observations:

     First, rule 40 has changed since 2016.  After President Trump was elected, his political team lobbied the GOP to get states to ditch the proportional allocation and go to winner-take-all.  In 2016, Trump complained that despite he was winning more delegates than the other candidates, why was he not getting every delegate in a state where he won the plurality? Many in the GOP agreed and ten states changed from proportional and are now winner-take- all.  Florida, whose primary will be held on March 19, is a winner-take-all state.  In a large primary field, this change favors the favorite, which in this case is Donald Trump. 

     Second, proportional allocation has a valid argument.  In 2016, Donald Trump had 63% of the pledged delegates at the GOP convention, but he garnered only 45% of the actual primary vote.  Advocates for proportional delegate allocation pointed out 55% of voting Republican primary voters preferred one of the other 15 candidates in the primary and those voters deserved a voice in the process.  They also pointed out elected officials must get a clear majority to win.  Critics of proportional allocation call the awarding to delegates who candidates who lost akin to giving out ‘participation trophies.’ 

     Third, the GOP’s primary calendar should be evaluated.  Iowa passed a law stating they will be the first primary in the U.S.  The state will hold the first GOP caucus in early January 2024, but no convention delegates are bound.  The Iowa caucus is nothing more than a beauty contest!  While the caucus is an economic boom to the Hawkeye state, it’s importance to the GOP presidential process is forgettable.  New Hampshire, who goes a week later than Iowa, has shifted to the left in recent years and while Politics and Eggs is entertaining to watch on C-Span, the Granite state has little impact on who wins the nomination.  Why not start the primary process in Florida instead of waiting until March? 

     Iowa’s caucus is early January 2024.  New Hampshire will vote in mid-January and South Carolina in late January.  Oklahoma Republicans will vote on Super Tuesday- March 2th- along with fourteen other states.  By that time, the nomination may be sewed up and the Sooner state’s input inconsequential and pointless.  The reddest state in America should have more influence in the process to select a nominee.  The primary calendar should be lined up by performance, not based on some classical, commemorative reminiscence.

     GOP candidates challenging Donald Trump in 2024 face an uphill battle.  The rules favor him.  If they expect to beat him, they must focus on policy and not personality and pray the voting public does the same.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Alienating 1/2 of potential customers isn’t a sound strategic initiative!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     In May of 2022, House Bill # 2034, authored by Rep. Mark McBride, (R-Moore) and Sen. Mark Allen, (R-Spiro), was signed into law.  Titled the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act of 2022, it requires the state to divest from any financial company that boycotts the energy industry.  McBride said, “This law protects all Oklahomans from the overreach of companies who think they can govern our population through the use of political environmentalism.”  Legislative Democrats said the law protects the oil industry in Oklahoma and they believe the oil industry can take care of itself.  McBride countered that the energy sector was a major employer in the state and contributed billions to the state’s economy and loyalty mattered. 

     On Wednesday, State Treasurer Todd Russ, (R-Cordell) notified thirteen (13) financial institutions they are not eligible to conduct business with the state of Oklahoma because they violate HB#2034.  The businesses now have the opportunity to clarify their activities and then there is a step-down period before the bank/financial institution are kicked to the curb.  Three observations:

     First, companies who have ESG policies must be willing to face the consequences.  Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing refers to a set of standards for a company’s behavior used by socially conscious investors to screen potential investments.  Bottom line: a bank with an ESG policy doesn’t invest in oil/gas companies.  Most financial experts agree ESG policies are significantly more risky than non-ESG policy.   Oklahoma taxpayers are better off not having their money being invested by ‘woke’ bankers.

     Second, the energy sector is king in Oklahoma.  According to the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board, the total economic impact of 4,000 oil and gas businesses in the state in 2022 was $64.9 billion, a whopping 27% of the state’s total economic activity.  Nearly 200,000 Oklahomans, making $24 billion dollars are directly or indirectly employed by the energy sector.  As the old saying goes: ‘dance with the one who brought you.”  In other words- be loyal! 

     Third, Todd Russ is enforcing the law.  That should be commended.  All too often, elected officials are relucent to do the hard part of the job.  Russ received questionnaires from nearly 160 financial institutions and after identifying thirteen (13) who have ESG policies that violate HB#2034, he notified state entities/agencies.  They are to contact the offending financial institution and give them a chance to ‘explain themselves,’ before they are given the boot.  It remains to be seen if the bureaucrats will be as vigilant as the treasurer.   The agencies have a year to get it done.

     In the 1960s, businesses, big and small, focused exclusively on profit.  Businesses were not expected to have a conscience. They provided jobs. The purpose of a business was to create customers and to offer value to those customers.  Changing the world and public policy wasn’t a business objective- maximizing profit was their cornerstone. 

     Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the precursor of ESG came along in the late 1960s.  A few businesses began to market and position their company and brands to appeal to social conscious consumers.  Sixty years ago, that was a narrow/niche market, e.g.: Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.  Fast forward to 2023 and CSR/ESG is now mainstream.  The list of banks Russ released includes Blackrock, Wells Fargo, J.P Morgan, and Bank of America, some of the largest financial institutions in the country.  Blackrock has already announced they are willing to lose the business- they are not willing to change their ESG policy.  Standing up for a liberal cause and willing to lose profit is admirable- unless you own stock in Blackrock.  Consumers can change a businesses’ policy by boycotting businesses who implement policies Business policy/convictions/conscience change rapidly when profits are impacted by dumb decisions.  Alienating half of potential customers isn’t a sound strategic initiative.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Gamesmanship was first practiced in Genesis. It's not new!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair


     Gamesmanship is defined as the ability to outsmart the competition.  Gamesmanship was first practiced in negotiation in Genesis.  The serpent used deceptive tactics to convince Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.  Synonyms for gamesmanship are artfulness, cunning, bettering, and cageyness.  Gamesmanship is often considered an asset in politics.  If you can outfox or outwit your political opponent in order to achieve your goal, you are considered an effective politician. 

     This week, Governor Kevin Stitt vetoed twenty state senate bills as retribution for the state senate not passing his tax cut and education ideas.  The vetoed bills were not related to either of those two subjects.  Stitt did it as a form of ‘gamesmanship’ to get the attention of the senate.  The veto messages the governor attached to each said: “Oklahomans elected me to advocate on their behalf and fight for the taxpayer.  I take this responsibility seriously and so I cannot, in good faith, allow another year to go by without cutting taxes and reforming education.”  Stitt went on to say until the senate passes tax cuts, gives teachers a raise and pass school choice, he will continue to veto bills that originated in the senate.  Most of the legislation Stitt vetoed is not legislation he opposes.  Speaker of the House Charles McCall, (R-Atoka) supports the governor’s decision to veto the senate bills.  Clearly Sen. Greg Treat, Senate President Pro Tempore, doesn’t agree.  Three observations:

     First, a veto should never be used as a negotiating chip.  The Bible says a person’s yea should be yea and their nay nay.  In other words, a man’s word should be his bond.  He shouldn’t use cunning cagey tactics to get an advantage on his fellow man.  By his own admission, Stitt doesn’t oppose the majority of the bills he vetoed.  The governor clearly misused the power of the veto.  Vetoing these twenty pieces of legislation was nothing more than a political stunt.  That should never be done by principled elected officials.  Elected officials are charged with working with the other branches of government for the betterment of citizens.  During his two terms as president, George Washington vetoed only two pieces of legislation.  Stitt vetoed ten times that in one day.   

     Second, this veto stunt will cost Oklahoma taxpayers money.  The legislature (House and Senate) will now burn manhours at taxpayer expense to override vetoes (2/3 majority) on non-controversial legislation.  That is not a good spend of time for lawmakers.  It is unnecessary double work that risks good legislation not becoming law.  Oklahomans didn’t give the GOP super majorities in both chambers and a Republican governor to create a logjam or to put on a circus act.  They expect them to work together and get something done.  Stunts and gamesmanship are not what Sooners deserve or expect.  If you didn’t know better, you would think the house, senate and governor were from three different political parties.   It is not a good look for Oklahoma.  

     Third, Oklahomans do deserve some tax relief.  With a $1.2 billion dollar surplus, taxpayers have overpaid and they need to get some of it back- permanently.  The legislature and governor have argued too long on the details of tax relief.  It needs to get done this session.  If taxes are not cut, voters must hold their elected officials accountable at the next election. 

     Stitt and the legislature should try using these three principles in negotiation: (1) Be a good steward of taxpayer dollars and resources, (2) Make ethical decisions on how to negotiate, (3) Recognize that all parties should walk away and not feel like they were cheated.  In good negotiations, everyone wins.