Tuesday, February 19, 2019

OCPA column: Better service at a better price

Better service at a better price
by Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

Whether dealing with auto repair shops or Internet service providers or any number of businesses, we’ve all heard the promise of “better service at a better price.”

Well, taxpayers should demand the same. Taxpayers are both the owners and the customers of government. Their tax dollars finance it, and they consume its services. That’s why Oklahomans should be grateful to our new governor, Kevin Stitt, who has made it clear in bringing his business background to state leadership that he intends to deliver better service at a better price.

From his personnel appointments to his insistence on efficiency, accountability, and economy in his inaugural message and State of the State address, Gov. Stitt has made it clear that he intends to bring the idea of good service at a fair price into state government.

No longer will we be asked to throw more tax dollars at problems without seeing a clear return on that investment. That’s good news. According to a new survey commissioned by OCPA and conducted by WPA Intelligence, taxpayers are skeptical of the old approach.

For example, when asked about Oklahoma’s public-school revenue per student of $9,219, only a third of respondents said taxpayers are getting a good return on investment. Just over half (51 percent) say the return on investment is lacking.

Consider the new ranking of state education systems by scholars Stan Liebowitz and Matthew Kelly of the University of Texas at Dallas. They show that New York state spends more than $22,000 per student to achieve a quality ranking of 31st—while Tennessee spends under $8,800 per student and ranks 30th.

What matters is not just how much you spend on schools—or any endeavor, in government or the private sector—but rather how you spend it.

The WPA Intelligence survey also asked respondents: “For every dollar paid in taxes that goes to the Oklahoma state government, how many cents out of each dollar do you believe are wasted?”

Only 7 percent of Oklahoma voters think government waste is minimal (less than 10 cents of every dollar).

Incredibly, registered voters overall believe that 47 cents of every dollar is being wasted. That’s not a misprint. (The number is 45 cents among Democrats, 48 cents among Republicans, and 50 cents among Independents.)

Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence in state government. Which is why the time is right for a governor who, unlike many politicians, has balanced the books of a business, made a monthly payroll, and dealt with the need to deliver good service at a fair price to customers.

Gov. Stitt knows that spending more dollars does not necessarily lead to better service. And he knows that a business that spends as freely and irresponsibly as some government agencies do would soon be out of business.

Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said, at an OCPA speech in Tulsa in 2011, “Never take a dollar from a free citizen through the coercion of taxation without a very legitimate purpose.” He pointed out that those in government “have a solemn duty to spend that dollar as carefully as possible because, when we took it, we diminished that person's freedom.”

Oklahoma taxpayers want and deserve better service at a better price.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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