Weekly Opinion Editorial
REMEMBER THE FAIL!
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.