Wednesday, March 28, 2007
A few weeks ago after much debate, the bill passed the house on a vote of 88-9. It is now in the hands of the Senate where it appears it faces a strong challenge. Some may wonder what changed between house passage and senate consideration to make the bill more vulnerable.
A key point of contention appears to be an attempt in the bill to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal aliens. The idea is that if employers stop being complicit in offering jobs to illegals, then illegals seeking employment will re-channel their energies into securing legal status.
The bill requires any business working under a state contract to verify social security numbers of their perspective employees in order to ensure they are legal. The bill encourages other businesses (those not under state contract) to verify social security numbers of perspective employees through the following means--it allows American employees who are terminated at a business which does not verify social security numbers to file an action with the Department of Labor if they were terminated while an illegal alien remains on that business payroll.
It is this provision that seems to have drawn the wrath of the Research Institute of Economic Development (RIED). Each year RIED publishes an index that grades legislators on how friendly they are to business interests. Each issue is graded on a scale of -20 to +20. In one of their latest updates, RIED indicated they will be grading immigration reform as a -20 vote. In other words, any lawmaker who votes for immigration reform will likely have a very hard time getting a real strong REID index score.
This is why immigration reform may face an uphill climb in the Senate. If the bill does pass the Senate, it may be a watered-down version which may not prevent employers from turning a blind eye to illegal immigration in their hiring practices. The sad reality of the situation dictates that unless we dry up the jobs, then illegal immigration will probably continue to be a major problem.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
That leads to one of the Capitol’s most happy traditions. Spring Break at the Capitol is a chance for families to be together as spouses and children of legislators often spend the week in Oklahoma City while we are working.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
In the past two years, the size of state government has grown approximately 30%. Had it stayed the same with no growth over the past two years, the state personal income tax could nearly have been eliminated.
At the beginning of this year's session, the Governor again proposed to increase the size of government by approximately 398 million dollars, raising annual appropriations to over 7 billion dollars, an increase of about 5.9%. The Governor also wished to issue 663 million in new indebtedness spending, and nowhere in his proposal was there a call for tax cuts.
On Monday, leaders of the House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans, announced their alternative to the Governor's plan. Their budget would increase the size of government by nearly 230 million dollars, raising annual appropriations to just under 6.9 billion dollars for a proposed increase of 3.4%. There is no evidence that this budget will incur any long term debt. The plan would also provide four tax cuts. The income tax will be reduced from 5.65% to 5.50%. A child care credit will be issued for those who choose to care for their qualifying children at home rather than placing them in a day care facility. The franchise tax will be eliminated for all businesses owing less than $250 in annual franchise tax liability. A three day back-to-school sales tax holiday for clothing and footwear costing less than $100 will be initiated and begin the first Friday in August. The state will reimburse municipalities for their loss in sales tax revenue.
This legislative plan appears preferable to the Governor's proposal. I am happy that new bonded indebtedness is not proposed and that it appears as though massive growth in the size of government in the last two years may be coming to an end. It is also encouraging that there is some progress in reducing the state income tax rate.
I am also concerned that the legislative budget is being presented to the House in the form of one bill. There are a number of state agencies which should be consolidated or not funded by state appropriations. Since the budget will be presented to us as one big bill, then it will make it difficult to target this state waste.
Finally, there are concerns about the way the budget is developed. In the past, Oklahoma politicians claimed to have instituted the process of zero based budgeting. A visit to Governor Brad Henry's website (http://www.gov.ok.gov/gov_henry.php) will demonstrate he is claiming to have helped institute this important reform. However, evidence that the principles of zero based budgeting have been applied to the budget process are mostly lacking. It appears that nearly every agency has been awarded the same amount of money they received last year, with very little change based on performance or need. Until we can incorporate zero based budgeting, it will be nearly impossible to shrink the size of government significantly. Thus both budgets proposal an expansion in government. I am encouraged that the House Speaker placed emphasis on the subcommittee agency review process and am hopeful this will be used by House leadership as a springboard to cut the size of government by instituting effective zero based budgeting in the future.
Based on observations this year, I plan to publish a report with recommendations for agency consolidations and cost savings. As always, your feedback is appreciated as we work to accomplish true reform.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
We in the Legislature came to a general budget agreement to provide baseline funding for all of state government. I have been working at the Capitol for more than two decades now, and this is the earliest I have ever seen a budget agreement reached by lawmakers.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
In essence, if powerful corporate leaders can make enough friends in the legislature through campaign contributions and special interest lobbying, they can develop the power to initiate laws which are self-serving. Usually, proponents of corporate welfare carefully craft their arguments, claiming that if the legislature provides them with special incentives, a massive amount of economic development will occur. This argument puts pressure on other legislators to support the incentive, since they do not want to be seen as voting against economic development.
This concern could not have been better demonstrated than by House Bill 2019. HB 2019 seeks to place a new law on the books which would allow a group of individuals to benefit financially for building a hotel next to Remington Park. Once the hotel is constructed, the state government would send the owners a check straight from the Oklahoma treasury, equaling the amount of income generated by sales tax on materials used in building the hotel.
How many Oklahoma small businesses would like to receive a big refund check for all the sales tax revenue they generated when they were building their business? How fair is it that one group can get this payment and not others? I believe it becomes dangerous when the Oklahoma Legislature starts writing laws which pick individual members of the business community to benefit from the public treasury, while others are forced to pay high sales tax rates that eat into their profit margin. Instead, we need to focus on reducing taxes across the board for Oklahoma individuals and businesses. It is this policy that will result in true economic development.
If we continue to implement a policy of high taxation with selective deductions for the privileged few, we encourage those who seek corporate welfare handouts, as well as lobbyists who jockey for access to politicians to ensure that their clients are the recipients of taxpayer largess. I fear this process gives far too much power to special interests and to the politicians who dole out favors.
HB 2019 passed the house by three and now heads over to the Senate. If HB 2019 comes back to the House for for another vote, I will again vote against it. I continue to believe that a strong majority of House District 31 constituents prefer small government and low taxation. Small government leads to significantly less potential for corruption and encourages true economic growth.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence wrote, "I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them…we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican form of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible; for this Divine Book, above all others, constitutes the soul of republicanism.” “By withholding the knowledge of [the Scriptures] from children, we deprive ourselves of the best means of awakening moral sensibility in their minds.”
As a member of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, I see firsthand the results of a society which no longer places emphasis on the values of the Christian faith. During each meeting of the committee, it seems we are forced to vote on finding solutions to new criminal activity. The Department of Corrections faces a nightmare scenario of prison overcrowding. They must deal with more and more attempts to initiate early release of criminals, placing them back into the society which they have victimized. As the government grows due to the increasing number of laws required to police a lawless society, the financial burden placed on law-abiding citizens increases also. And sadly, a big government in a society lacking in morality will in and of itself consist of an increased number of government officials without standards. In short, it is this lack of morality that makes our republican form of government more difficult to maintain.
This is why I was honored to support a recent proposal by fellow freshman Republican Dennis Johnson. Johnson authored HB 1874 to designate "Celebrate Freedom Week" for Oklahoma schools during the same week in November in which we honor veterans. "Celebrate Freedom Week" would be used to instruct students about the importance of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other founding documents and historical American figures.
Johnson expressed the belief that some things should absolutely be taught in school, and the core principles of our nation’s freedom must be emphasized so they can be passed on to future generations.
In speaking for the bill, Representative Paul Wesselhoft said, "My daughter attends Yale University and she’s been surprised at the lack of awareness about our nation’s history among her fellow students – even simple things like the opening preamble to the Declaration of Independence. If elementary school, middle school and high school aren’t the place where students learn about these things, when and where is the appropriate place? I’m surprised and disappointed that anyone would oppose this measure."
So who would oppose such a measure? One aspect of Johnson's bill that may have drawn the ire of opponents was language which requires that religious references in the writing of the founding fathers not be censored. Perhaps some prefer that public schools students not be exposed to quotes similar to those of Noah Webster and Benjamin Rush. But can you imagine the positive impact on Oklahoma students if they understood that Christian principles make the republican form of government and our rights and privileges as a free people easier to maintain?
Fortunately Johnson's bill passed the house by a strong margin, though several legislators debated against it and 18 voted in opposition. I was honored to support Johnson's effort to refocus the attention of our public school system on the values that made our country great, and look forward to opportunities to do so in the future.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Last year, we in the Oklahoma Legislature passed one of the strongest laws in the nation to put a clamp on these individuals who dishonor the memories of Oklahoma’s and America’s heroes. Under that law, the picketing cannot occur from one hour before the funeral until one our after it, and the picketers have to be at least 500 feet away.