Saturday, April 02, 2022

Small: State House Republicans behaving badly

House Republicans behaving badly
By Jonathan Small

One theme that fueled former President Donald Trump’s election was his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. Sadly, the same thing may be needed at the Oklahoma Capitol, as recently demonstrated by the actions of some House Republicans.

The gap between some House Republicans’ campaign rhetoric and their actions in office is enormous. Most Republican lawmakers campaign as conservatives. But in recent weeks, some House Republicans have been anything but conservative, and have instead embodied the worst aspects of the “good ol’ boy” system that has caused Oklahoma to rank so high for public corruption.

In contrast and to their credit, Senate Republicans have focused on substantive issues this year. The most-consequential issue of the year is Senate Bill 1647 [blogger's note: see more posts here], by Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, which would create the Oklahoma Empowerment Account (OEA) Program. Under the program, most Oklahoma students would be eligible for OEA funds, which could be used to pay for a range of education services, including private-school tuition.

However, the bill narrowly failed to pass the Senate. That vote was notable for unprecedented efforts by some House Republicans to interfere with, bully and intimidate senators. During the vote, House Republicans flooded the Senate chamber and senators received communications from some House Republican leaders and lawmakers threatening retaliation against any senator who supported the conservative legislation.

So what do those Republican opponents of school choice think is more important that improving educational opportunity and academic outcomes? Lining their own pockets at taxpayer expense. I wish that statement was an exaggeration.

House lawmakers have advanced House Bill 2486 [blogger's note: see my post here], which shifts state employees from a 401(k)-style plan to a defined-contribution plan. Among those affected are the House lawmakers who voted on the bill.

Put simply, while most private-sector employers are in a 401(k) plan, some House Republicans voted to give themselves a much more lucrative retirement plan. Under HB 2486, state legislators would receive significantly greater benefit payments without greater investment of their own funds—and taxpayers would foot the difference.

Just as bad, HB 2486 would eliminate nearly $3.8 billion in taxpayer savings projected over the next 30 years due to the financial predictability created by the current 401(k) plan for state employees. That ultimately means taxpayer funds will be diverted from other uses to prop up the pension system.

When given the chance to increase educational opportunity and outcomes for Oklahoma children, some House Republicans were a hard no. But when it came to saddling those same children with greater state pension debt, some House Republicans stormed the barricades.

The image of politicians as self-dealers talking out of both sides of their mouths while ignoring pressing constituent needs is a stereotype. But as some Oklahoma House Republicans have demonstrated, it exists for a reason.

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

1 comment:

  1. Pretty sure SB1647 was rightly stopped by the voices of Oklahomans who opposed it strongly.


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