Stop Beating Around the Bush

Governor Mary Fallin has called the Oklahoma Legislature back into special session to address the $215 million budget shortfall.  As Randy Krehbiel writes, “The mounting pressure on Republican legislators, especially in the House, is an indicator of just how much is at stake during the special session.”

Governor Fallin says the state cannot continue on its current path.  Former Governor Frank Keating, former Secretary Larry Parman, Senator Tom Coburn and the state chamber as well as the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs each say raising taxes is not the answer.

Mr. Krehbiel writes that what is really on the line is whether or not the movement that began 25 years ago continues.  Republicans rose to power in Oklahoma promising lower taxes and smaller government.  The “line of thinking is now being questioned as never before.”  The suggestion that taxes may be too low or government too small hints at a crisis of faith that threatens the movement and the credibility of those who led it.

Representative Jason Murphey, R-Gutherie, concluded with “the people of Oklahoma rightly concluding that Oklahoma’s current generation of elected officials are no longer reformers, but have instead become the new old-guard status quo.”  I think representative Murphey states the problem perfectly.  The Oklahoma Republican Party and its leaders may say the right things, but when it comes to reforms lacks the courage and drive to do the right thing.

Where are the specifics?  Even in Senator Coburn, Gov. Keating and Secretary Parman’s open letter they spoke in generalities with, “Given what Oklahomans are facing, now more than ever is the time for policymakers to steel themselves and get about the tough work of reforming Oklahoma’s government.  This means focusing funding on critical core functions while working to implement efficiencies.”

What are these efficiencies?  In a separate op-ed piece, Curtis Shelton and David Autry made the statement,” Oklahoma’s current budget challenges have two causes, and extended recession spread from the oil and gas industry across most of our economy and the failure of state leaders to address convoluted, wasteful structures within government.”

Here again we ask just what are the convoluted and wasteful structures that are so bad?  Our Legislature today needs a seeing-eye dog.  They can’t seem what’s in front of them.

In the Shelton and Autry article, they do an excellent job in stating the money that Oklahoma has gone through.  Over the last 10 years, total state government spending had increased by $3.83 billion. They conclude, “The truth is that Oklahoma doesn’t have a revenue problem and doesn’t need to raise taxes.”  What we have is one manufactured budget crisis after another, created by too much spending with too little accountability.

What is not well known is some of Oklahoma’s agencies receive most of their funding from other sources, usually fees, special dedicated taxes like property or federal tax dollars.  For the last several years, state appropriations have made up only about 40 percent of total state government spending in Oklahoma.

Now to the specifics.  The story is told of state Corrections Director Joe Albaugh taking a pro-active position on trying to cut down on Oklahoma’s prison population.  We have 27,000 individuals in prison.  We are one of the worst states for incarceration.  We can’t afford it.  There should be ways to cut the population and still provide for public safety.  Mr. Albaugh is doing it himself.

Other areas where Oklahoma waste’s money is in education and county government.  The state has a shared school superintendent program which will pay a large portion of the salary if two or more districts will share the boss.  Of 515 districts only 8 take advantage of the program and 75 percent of all districts have 1,000 students or less – many with 150 or less students.  All 200 dependent school districts need to be consolidated.

Have you driven west from Enid lately?  Along Hwy 412 there is Woodward, Guymon, Beaver and Boise City.  Endless space with few people.  Western Oklahoma had more people at statehood than today, but we cannot consolidate county governments or school districts.  These are the specifics we need to talk about.

Our politicians are just not up to it.  Well, the citizens aren’t up to raising taxes either.  State leaders need to keep that in mind.