Friday, February 07, 2020

Small: Stitt's agenda includes much good, but some bad

Stitt’s agenda includes much good, but some bad
By Jonathan Small

Most people know they won’t enjoy 100-percent agreement with anyone, include a spouse. While conservatives may not agree with 100 percent of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s 2020 agenda—and have good reason to strongly oppose one proposal—overall the governor’s plan is a refreshing challenge to status-quo thinking.

Conservatives have reason to cheer the governor’s focus on state savings, reducing duplication, and increasing efficiency.

While Stitt ran to make Oklahoma a “top 10” state, he wants to get the state out of the top 10 in one category: the number of state agencies. Thus, the governor wants to combine the Pardon and Parole Board and Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, and the 10 different agencies that handle Medicaid funding.

In addition to consolidation, Stitt wants to further increase state savings. This includes raising the cap on the state’s “rainy day” fund so it can hold up to $2 billion, a sum that would cover at least three months of state government expenses, and adding another $100 million in state savings this year.

Those savings proposals are drawing complaints from status-quo critics who think government waste occurs only when taxpayer money is not spent. But those critics are willfully blind to the recent past when lack of savings led to numerous mid-year budget cuts. While planned spending reductions are worthwhile and can be achieved through efficiency, unplanned reductions are often exploited by status-quo forces only to maximize dysfunction and fuel calls for higher taxes.

Stitt also endorsed making most state government jobs “at will” positions comparable to those in the private sector. Currently, a “government job” is too often secure because of red tape, not because of superior job performance.

In education Stitt called for review of the school funding formula, making it easier for teachers who move to Oklahoma from another state to obtain certification, and raising the cap on the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship. That last item would provide thousands of Oklahoma children—many of them low-income and minority students—greater educational opportunity. Stitt deserves credit for his willingness to stand up for those children, rather than side with the education bureaucrats who have failed those pupils.

While there is much good in Stitt’s agenda, there is one notably bad idea. The governor has asked lawmakers to pass a de facto tax increase on health care to pay for expanding Medicaid so able-bodied adults can be added to the program.

But Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion has failed to improve health outcomes in other states, and it’s been a budget-buster. Doing the same thing that other states have done over and over again, while hoping for a different result, is not a sound strategy.

However, if lawmakers quickly shelve Stitt’s Medicaid expansion plan, but otherwise advance the governor’s agenda, the 2020 session could be one of the most productive in years.

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


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