Tuesday, February 06, 2018

OCPA's Small: Back to Basics


Back to Basics
by OCPA President Jonathan Small

On Feb. 5, Gov. Mary Fallin delivered her final State of the State address to open the 2018 legislative session.

For the governor in her final year in office, and for the Legislature in the second year of session, there’s plenty of unfinished business.

Gov. Fallin won her current office in 2010 on a wave of voter angst about overreach and overspending. As a member of Congress, she called for spending restraint and opposed Obamacare because it increased the power of Washington, D.C., over the lives and finances of Oklahomans.

By 2010, outgoing Gov. Brad Henry had signed two large income tax cuts. Candidate Fallin promised more: to phase out the state income tax to make Oklahoma competitive with Texas and “right-size state government.”

Tax and spending reforms turned out to be tough. Gov. Henry had cut taxes, but he increased spending thanks to high oil and natural gas prices, federal stimulus funds, and an artificially inflated economy as a result of the housing bubble. Government growth tends to be a one-way ratchet since it creates new dependents and special interests.

Gov. Fallin turned to other issues and won some victories, including workers’ compensation and tort reforms and state employee pension reforms. But with natural gas prices low, federal stimulus gone, and then crashing oil prices, the budget has come to dominate the governor’s final years in office.

With unreformed government structures and the state Health Department scandal, Gov. Fallin has an opportunity to recover one of her campaign themes: right-sizing state government. Medicaid enrollment audits, Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) reforms, ending Oklahoma’s Hollywood and film production boondoggle that paid millions to Harvey Weinstein, and initiation of performance and process improvement audits at every state agency would be a lasting legacy. She can also work to end crony capitalism for out-of-state wind energy companies and tribes selling tobacco. Pursuing these reforms will generate the savings and revenue needed to give every classroom teacher a $5,000 a year raise and protect Oklahomans.

Gov. Fallin brought together thoughtful people from across the political spectrum to create a package of criminal justice reform measures. But the hard work is getting the bills passed, and they desperately need the governor’s thoughtful support. The alternative is building new prisons over the next decade.

Finally, the Trump administration has invited states to be more innovative and accountable in managing their Medicaid programs. Here again is a chance for Gov. Fallin to deliver on a campaign theme by bringing more power back to Oklahoma while also restraining one of the fastest-growing parts of the state budget.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).

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