Saturday, November 18, 2017

UPDATED: GOP Gubernatorial Candidates on Fallin's Veto

I reached out to the Republican candidates for governor to get their comments on Gov. Fallin vetoing most of the budget passed during the end of special session this week, and her plans on calling the House and Senate back for a second special session to raise new revenue taxes.

I'll add their statements in the order that I receive them as I get them.

Gary Richardson: "The fact that the $30 million that Governor Fallin didn’t veto is being used to cover up the misappropriations going on at the Department of Health demonstrates that we need an outsider as our next Governor. I will repeat what I have said since the beginning of this year - We must audit every state agency, trust, and authority before considering ANY new tax increases and I urge the people of Oklahoma to contact their legislators and encourage them to oppose any new taxes."

Kevin Stitt: “This is a failure of leadership by career politicians. As chief executive, I would ensure a plan was agreed upon before I called for the Legislature to spend a single taxpayer dollar on a special session. The Legislature is under extraordinary pressure, and there are constraints on their power. It requires leadership to inspire, to negotiate, and to empower both chambers to accomplish their goals. I have done this in building my business. For nearly two decades I have led a team to create jobs, balance budgets, and thrive as a company in both good and difficult seasons. But it is also important to recognize that Oklahoma’s crisis didn’t happen overnight. Oklahoma has experienced multiple years of a budget shortfall, and we are going to face another one in 2018. If a football team is failing, you don’t get rid of the coach and then hire a replacement from your bench. You recruit a new, proven leader from the outside to bring real change. I believe we must do the same in order to achieve a brighter future for Oklahoma, which is why I am running as a conservative Republican for governor.”

Mick Cornett: (no response yet)

Dan Fisher: (no response yet)

Gary Jones: (no response yet)

Todd Lamb: (no response yet)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sen. Schulz: veto doesn't help, 2nd special session "seems like a waste"

Senate leader comments on veto of revised budget

OKLAHOMA CITY - Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus, released the following comment on the governor's veto of the revised FY'18 budget:

"We are surprised by the governor’s veto. The governor’s office was involved in the negotiation of the revised budget agreement, but did not indicate the agreement was insufficient and would be vetoed. The revised budget agreement was not the Senate’s first choice to resolve the budget crisis but it was the only option after the House showed it was not able to meet the constitutional standards of raising revenue. Bringing the Legislature back into special session at this point seems like a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. The governor’s veto doesn’t help Oklahoma thrive, it only serves to throw our budget further into chaos.”

BREAKING: Fallin Vetoes Most of Revised Budget Bill, plans Second Special Session

Governor Mary Fallin on Friday evening signs paperwork vetoing most of House Bill 1019X, a revised budget bill approved by legislators in special session. She kept intact parts of the bill that temporarily preserve funding for key health and human services until lawmakers return in another special session to approve long-term funding solutions.

Governor Mary Fallin Vetoes Most of Revised Budget Bill, Preserves Funding for Core Health, Human Services

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin this evening vetoed most of the revised budget bill approved by legislators in special session. She kept intact parts of the bill that temporarily preserve funding for key health and human services until lawmakers return in another special session to approve long-term funding solutions.

Lawmakers failed to act on other requests the governor made in her call for a special session, such as addressing a long-term solution to continuing budget shortfalls; the need for more consolidation and other efficiencies in all areas of state government; clarifying intended exemptions to the new 1.25 percent sales tax on vehicles; and a pay increase for K-12 public school teachers.

The governor vetoed all but five of the 170 sections contained in House Bill 1019X, which was passed earlier in the day by the state Senate and approved earlier this week by the House of Representatives.

“House Bill 1019X does not provide a long-term solution to the re-occurring budget deficits, and within three months we will come back facing an estimated $600 million shortfall,” she said.

Fallin said her action results in amending the general appropriations bill approved in May by lawmakers during the regular legislative session.

“This will preserve a safety net for core health and human services until legislators come back for a second special session, which I intend to call in the near future,” said Fallin.

Fallin’s action keeps intact a $30 million emergency appropriation to the Department of Health, which will allow the agency to make its next payroll and be funded without cuts through the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Her action will provide funding for the short term for three health care agencies that were facing severe cuts because they were to receive most of the $215 million earmarked in a proposed cigarette cessation fee, which was struck down as unconstitutional earlier this year. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority were facing cuts unless revisions were made in the current fiscal year budget.

 “My action avoids immediate health and human services cuts and provides time for legislators to come back and approve revenue proposals that can provide a permanent fix,” Fallin said.

“As governor, I would like nothing more than to adequately fund agencies. The constant budget crisis has put us in survival mode. I want us to thrive. We will thrive when we can adequately and consistently fund our core services. That will happen when we find sustainable and predictable revenue sources.”

Fallin said she vetoed most of HB 1019X because it came perilously close to using most of the state’s available one-time funds in various accounts and drawing down on available savings in the Rainy Day Fund. Signing the measure would have left the state with few available funds to deal with an estimated shortfall of more than $600 million in the next regular legislative session, which begins in February.

The governor’s action will result in doing away with $60 million in cuts to state agencies and using $60 million from revolving funds, as called for in HB 1019X. The measure also called for using more than half of the state’s $83 million in cash reserves; a smaller amount will be used as a result of the governor’s line-item veto.

“Our inability to find a long-term solution to our budget problem puts our citizens and our economy at risk,” said Fallin. “We cannot give up. We must find solutions. Our citizens want a state government that works for them. They are tired of gamesmanship and want leadership. As difficult as it might be to return to the state Capitol, we must do so. As governor, I pledge, as I have done throughout this difficult period, to work with the Legislature. We came so close, with over 70 percent of the House and over 75 percent of the Senate voting for a viable budget plan.

“Some legislative leaders have stated that revenue measures will be taken up in February when lawmakers return in regular session,” Fallin said. “But I am very skeptical because next year is an election year and the pressure not to do anything will be greater.

 “We must find sustainable, predictable recurring revenue to fund our core services and get us out of the constant crisis. Let’s finish our work for the sake of our great state and our hardworking people. I love this state and her people, and I will continue to work tirelessly with the Legislature for them.”

Rush: if tax reform fails, voters may ask "Why Republican?" for last time

Yesterday, I caught Rush Limbaugh on the radio, discussing the tax reform plan currently going through Congress. Here's the full transcript from that monologue, but he made a few comments that were worth repeating here.

"So if the bill passes in the House, which it is expected to do, it looks like the Senate, the Republican Senate is set to torpedo this. And Senator Graham is running around saying, if this happens, if this doesn’t pass, we can say good-bye to our majorities in 2018. And he may have a point. It’s tough to forecast that far out because even if this thing goes down in flames, there are gonna be all kinds of things that we cannot predict or foretell that will happen between now and Election Day of 2018. But this will not be good."

"To have once in a lifetime majorities in the House and the Senate while controlling the White House and to not be able to get anything done? The voters would be excused if they started asking themselves for the final time, “What is the point in voting Republican?” Because nothing gets done. No promises are kept. It doesn’t even look like there is an effort made to keep some of these promises, such as repealing Obamacare. And now tax reform." [emphasis mine]

Senate kills trucking exemption; end of Special Session today?

Yesterday, the State Senate defeated a measure (HB1074) that would have exempted the trucking industry from having to pay the new 1.25% sales tax on new vehicles that average citizens like you and me now have to pay. The tax came when the Legislature passed HB2433 at the end of the regular session in May, and the Supreme Court upheld it as constitutional after it received a legal challenge.

Supporters of HB1074 argued that the intent of the sales tax was for personal vehicles like cars, pickups, and vans, not tractor-trailers, and that this tax will hurt the trucking industry here, as under current exemptions many trucking companies register their vehicles in Oklahoma. Legislators claim that big trucking companies and other corporations like Walmart are now moving their truck registration from Oklahoma (where it was very inexpensive prior to HB2433) to elsewhere.

Allow me to point out the irony that taxing something more oftentimes results in getting less of what you want.

The House had passed HB1074 63-20, with only Democrats opposing, but the Senate voted 17-20, with 14 Republicans opposing and 17 Republicans supporting.

State Sen. Marty Quinn (R-Claremore) said this in opposition to the bill on the Senate floor: "What bothers me about this is that we don’t want to allow this burden to continue on a special group of corporations or businesses, but it’s going to be fine and dandy to leave that burden on the common man you and I represent."

Quinn is exactly right.

In other legislative news, it appears that the House and Senate may finish the Special Session today, as the Senate will take up the budget cut-and-reallocate measures that the House has passed. The plan cuts about $60M in spending (HB1019), raises about $48M in speeding up the GPT on some older wells (HB1085), and shifts around enough money in leftover funds, rainy day funds, and revolving funds (HB1019) to cover the rest of the $215M hole.

If the Senate passes these measures as expected, today should be the final day of this extended special session.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What would a 8.8% statewide elected officials' pay cut save?

The Legislative Compensation Board is cutting legislative salaries by 8.8% (from $38,400 to $35,021), eliminating a little over $500,000 in spending. Compared to some of our statewide elected officials, legislators earn peanuts. What could the state save if it cut all statewide elected officials' pay by the same percentage? Let's take a look.

Here is the current pay rate for each of Oklahoma's statewide elected officials:
  • Governor: $147,000.00
  • Attorney General: $132,825.00
  • State Superintendent of Public Instruction: $124,373.00
  • Lieutenant Governor: $114,713.00
  • Corporation Commissioner: $114,713.00
  • Corporation Commissioner: $114,713.00
  • Corporation Commissioner: $114,713.00
  • State Auditor & Inspector: $114,713.00
  • State Insurance Commissioner: $114,713.00
  • State Treasurer: $114,713.00
  • Commissioner of Labor: $105,053.00
  • TOTAL OF SALARIES: $1,312,242.00

If each of those officials had their pay cut by the same rate as legislators (8.8%), here's what would result:
  • Governor: $134,064.00 (cut of $12,936)
  • Attorney General: $121,136.40 (cut of $11,688.60)
  • State Superintendent of Public Instruction: $113,428.18 (cut of $10,944.82)
  • Lieutenant Governor: $104,618.26 (cut of $10,094.74)
  • Corporation Commissioner: $104,618.26 (cut of $10,094.74)
  • Corporation Commissioner: $104,618.26 (cut of $10,094.74)
  • Corporation Commissioner: $104,618.26 (cut of $10,094.74)
  • State Auditor & Inspector: $104,618.26 (cut of $10,094.74)
  • State Insurance Commissioner: $104,618.26 (cut of $10,094.74)
  • State Treasurer: $104,618.26 (cut of $10,094.74)
  • Commissioner of Labor: $95,808.34 (cut of $9,244.66)
  • TOTAL OF SALARIES: $1,196,764.74 

An 8.8% cut would save $115,477.26, just under $10,500 per elected official, more than three times the legislative salary cut of about $3,380 per legislator.

Unlike legislative pay (set by a board), the salaries of the statewide officials are set by statute - most recently, SB549 (passed in 2015).

This doesn't even touch the high salaries paid to many cabinet and agency heads or employees, many over which are paid in excess of $140,000.

Board votes to cut Oklahoma legislative pay 8.8%

Today, the Oklahoma Legislative Compensation Board voted 4-3 to reduce legislator's salaries by 8.8%, taking effect in November 2018. The move would reduce the base salary from $38,400 to $35,021, saving the state about $500,000.

A little information about the LCB:
In order to regulate compensation paid to the Legislature, the Oklahoma Constitution created the Board on Legislative Compensation. The Board is composed of five members appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma, two members are appointed by the President pro tempore of the Oklahoma Senate, and two members are appointed by the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The members appointed by the Governor must be from religious organizations, communications media, nonstate-supported educational institutions, labor organizations, and retail business. The members appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate shall be from agricultural and civic organizations and the members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be from manufacturing and from professional fields not otherwise specified.

No member of the Legislature may be appointed to serve on the Board. In addition to the nine voting members, the Chairman of the Tax Commission and the Director of State Finance serve as ex officio nonvoting members of the Board. The Chairman of the Board is designated by the Governor. 
The last time legislative pay was changed was in 1997.

In an AP article by reporter Sean Murphy, House Majority Leader Jon Echols (R-OKC) said, "This is easier for me, because I don’t need my legislative salary and I don’t run for my legislative salary. I just think we eventually need to have the conversation about who we want in the Legislature. Do we want those who are independently wealthy or retired and can afford it? Or do we want average, everyday citizens to have the ability to do it?"

Portions of a statement by House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) are quoted by KFOR in this article: "I don’t do this job for the money, so personally I don’t mind the vote at all. I think the same could be said for House leadership, who often times are working nights and weekends trying to achieve the best possible outcomes for our citizens. This job is about public service as it should be. This is not a ‘part-time job,’ as so many like to say. The four-month legislative session is only a portion of the work that lawmakers do. Cutting compensation ensures that in the future many lower-income but capable citizens won’t be able to run for the Legislature. Only those with financial means will have the opportunity to represent citizens at the Capitol."

McCall pointed out the hefty salaries that Executive branch bureaucrats pull in -- disgraced (and resigned) Department of Health chief Terry Cline was getting paid over $195,000, and Deputy Health Commissioner Julie Cox-Kain (who also resigned) was getting over $146,000. He goes on to say, "In the House of Representatives, the citizens get a chance every two years to decide if their representative is earning his or her income. With the Executive branch, there is no accountability for poor performance. So, yes, I welcome not only the discussion on legislative pay, but on all taxpayer-funded compensation."

Governor Mary Fallin said this in a press release: "I was surprised by the action of the Board on Legislative Compensation. The board is a constitutionally formed independent panel granted the power to change the pay of lawmakers. Their vote reflects the level of the public's frustration. There are many hardworking legislators who spend more than 40 hours a week outside of regular session representing their constituents. In many cases, they do so at the expense of lost compensation from their normal jobs and time away from their families."

After observing politics for a dozen or so years, one common statement I have heard is "we should cut legislative pay", or some variation of the sentiment. While I understand why people might think that, I find myself in agreement with what Majority Leader Echols, Speaker McCall, and (shock) even Governor Fallin said in the above comments.

As the son of a legislator, I've had a bit of a different viewpoint than most. While commonly called a "part-time job", it really isn't. The regular legislative session may only last four months, but there is much more to the job of a legislator than simply the gaveling in and gaveling out of a session.

Some states pay their members very little. As such, it severely limits the type of individuals who can afford to seek office -- almost strictly limited to retired and/or independently wealthy persons. That serves to restrict the viewpoint and experiences of those representing the people.

My parents have owned and operated a small business for 30 years. When my dad was first elected to office, I was not old enough to work full-time. Even with my dad cleaning carpets on Fridays after session would adjourn for the week, the business essentially shut down for four months of the year, resulting in a loss of business of about 40%. It was a hefty hit, until I was able to handle the work when dad was at the Capitol. For those who operate small family-run companies with few or no additional employees, keeping their business running while being a legislator can be difficult, but it's an important perspective to have in the Legislature.

Is cutting legislative salaries a good idea? Given that other areas of government have had cuts in the last several years, maybe so. Should they be dropped further than this level? I don't believe that they should. There is something to be said for common citizens being able to serve in the legislature rather than just the wealthy elite.

OKGOP State Committee commends Republicans who voted against HB1054 tax hike

On Saturday, November 11th, the Oklahoma Republican Party State Committee passed the following resolution, commending 22 Oklahoma House Republicans who voted against the $454M tax hike measure HB1054X on November 8th.

Here is a copy the resolution that they passed, from the State Party:

Resolution Commending the Republican Minority Vote on HB 1054X

WHEREAS, Filling the Budget shortfalls without first auditing agencies’ performance and financial conditions covers up mismanagement and/or corruption, and avoids making the hard decisions on cutting inefficiencies that lead to cost savings;

WHEREAS, The prime example is the recently uncovered mismanagement and/or fraud at the Department of Health which would likely not have become known if this tax plan had already passed the House earlier in session;

WHEREAS, The Oklahoma Legislature should not increase tax burdens on Oklahomans while this lack of transparency in spending continues to exist in an undetermined number of the over 120 state agencies; and

WHEREAS, The Republican Party Platform is very clear that, “Revenues collected at all levels of government should be used only for well-defined, legitimate government functions, and should be carried out efficiently so that tax rates may be kept as low as possible”; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, The Oklahoma Republican Party State Committee hereby commends the fortitude of the 22 Republican Representatives: Kevin Calvey, Bobby Cleveland, Jeff Coody, Dale Derby, Tim Downing, Travis Dunlap, John Enns, George Faught, Tom Gann, Tommy Hardin, Mark McBride, Scott McEachin, Lewis Moore, Jason Murphey, Terry O’Donnell, Mike Ritze, Sean Roberts, Michael Rogers, Chuck Strohm, Tess Teague, Kevin West, and Rick West, who have put principle over politics, and held the line to not increase taxes again without a complete audit of all agencies; and

RESOLVED, The Oklahoma Republican Party State Committee encourages all legislators to proceed now with the leadership and courage to be accountable first to the people of Oklahoma, knowing that it is our tax dollars they are spending.

As a former State Committee member, I applaud the State Committee for this action. If the Republican Party doesn't stand for something, why does it exist?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Democrats flip SD37, GOP holds HD76 and SD45

Three legislative special elections were held today - House District 76 (vacated by Rep. David Brumbaugh's death), Senate District 37 (vacated by Sen. Dan Newberry resigning for a private sector job), and Senate District 45 (vacated by Sen. Kyle Loveless' resignation over campaign finance violations).

All three seats were Republican-held. Democrats last won SD37 in 1996 (although Nancy Riley switched from Republican to Democrat in the middle of her final term in 2006), SD45 in 1976, and never in HD76.

In HD76 (Republican District Rating of 61.9), Republican Ross Ford won with 68.35% of the vote . In SD45 (RDR of 59.5), Republican Paul Rosino got 56.78% of the vote.

In a nailbiter of a race in SD37 (RDR of 57.6), Democrat Allison Ikley-Freeman defeated Republican Brian O'Hara by 31 votes, 2234 (50.35%) to 2203 (49.65%). The vote was close enough that O'Hara might seek a recount; either way, due to Newberry's resignation date being January 31st, 2018, the winner won't be sworn in until February 1st, 2018.

Ikley-Freeman (a therapist at a nonprofit mental health agency) defeated O'Hara (a former Jenks city councilor and district director for Cong. Bridenstine) by virtue of receiving 60 more votes on election day, while O'Hara led the absentee and early voting total by 29. Ikley-Freeman becomes the third openly homosexual individual (she is married to another lesbian) to be elected to the Oklahoma Legislature, and the first outside of the HD88/SD46 area in Oklahoma City.

Democrats have now won 4 of the 7 special elections held this year (HD46, HD75, SD37, SD44).

OCPA President comments on TSET Providing Funds to DHS and ODMHSAS

Statement from OCPA President Jonathan Small on TSET Providing Funds to DHS and ODMHSAS

After the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) Board of Directors voted Tuesday to provide funds for senior nutrition services at the Department of Human Services (DHS) and mobile mental health crisis teams for children through the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), OCPA president Jonathan Small released the following statement:

“It’s encouraging to see TSET making healthier fiscal choices by shifting some spending back to its core mission of supporting the health of our most vulnerable citizens. I certainly hope this is a trend that continues. With more than $1 billion in the bank, investment earnings of about $40 million per year, and additional income of $50 million per year from the sale of cigarettes, it’s obvious TSET offers an opportunity to shore up core services.”

Blogger's note: TSET's board voted  today to give a $1.81 million grant to DHS for senior nutrition centers and $1.27 million to ODMHSAS mobile mental health crisis teams for children.