Is it a core function of our state government to pay for museums, especially in challenging economic times?
Consider this – Oklahoma has just gone through one of the most trying budget times in its history. Legislators were greeted (almost from day one) with a $611 million dollar budget deficit gap to fill due to plummeting oil and gas prices.
The House had working groups meeting every day during the session to try and find money while going through some 25-plus budgets. We are constitutionally required to balance our budget, and as a result, had to take deep cuts in numerous core functions of government like public safety, veterans, the truly needy, and repairs to our crumbling roads and bridges.
Many agencies received over 7 percent cuts, while inflation continues for our teachers and government workers. A lot of difficult fiscal decisions had to be made that affected our Oklahoma families.
One of the easiest decisions for many was to try to unload the Native American Cultural Center. It has been an albatross around our necks for over two decades. The unfinished museum has never generated one dime of revenue but has cost the taxpayers of Oklahoma almost $100 million dollars. We needed to stop the bleeding because the state is still on the hook for $54 million dollars of bond indebtedness until 2024. I have always voted against giving my constituents’ tax dollars to this “boondoggle.”
You think after this we would have learned our lesson – but enter Senate Bill 839 and the OK POPS Museum – another $25 million that taxpayers are on the hook for.
Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Well, here we go again… On the last day of the session, Senate Bill 839 was brought up for reconsideration after failing the day before – absolutely irresponsible in a state-wide budget crisis. You can only imagine what went on behind the scenes to get this bill passed. The vote went to 51 and it was locked in.
So, the special interests won again and were particularly aggressive going after those who voted against the bill. I was personally attacked by many of these folks for even questioning the bill. It is the same political “shell game” – they broadcast no “new money,” which means, of course, we never retire our existing bond debt, we just continue it so taxpayers never get relief or the money back in their pockets.
The famous French statesman and economist Frederic Bastiat wrote in his timeless classic The Law, “sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it.” He said the way to recognize it is to see if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives to the other persons it doesn’t belong – legal plunder from the public purse. That is taking from the taxpayer what is an enumerated power in Article 1 Section 8 of our U.S. Constitution.
With all due respect, I don’t believe a POPS Museum in downtown Tulsa is a core function of government. For myself, I cannot morally defend such actions under the guise of economic development, especially in tough economic times.
How do I explain that to the hard-working men and women of Oklahoma who pay my salary? I couldn’t sleep at night – I don’t know how others can.
Just a thought…