The process by which we make laws is an elegant one designed to make it difficult to pass any proposal into law.
It is supposed to be that way: cumbersome and sometimes frustrating. Any government that can do something for you with great ease and efficiency can do something to you with great ease and efficiency.
The frustrating part of that is while it takes a coalition to pass anything, one individual in any number of positions can kill a proposal with little effort. That brings me to the heart of this week’s column.
As I have written before, state government has a commitment on which we must make good: the promise made to retired educators with the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System (OTRS). Many of us have tried time and again to put more dollars into the system.
Last year, numerous proposals to strengthen OTRS were short-circuited by one individual in a position that allowed him simply say “no” to our retired educators. That individual is the now, thankfully, retired Speaker of the House of Representatives Todd Hiett.
Retired educators were the victims of a political reality. Speaker Hiett was locked in a difficult primary election for his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor. To preserve his political future, he could not afford to put more state resources into any government operation, especially a government retirement program for teachers.
We in Senate leadership proposed several options to put available resources into OTRS, which is among the most poorly funded public retirement systems in the nation. The then-Speaker simply said “no,” putting his political fortunes ahead of retired educators.
The result was more than $100 million left on the table when the 2006 session adjourned. That money could have been used to strengthen OTRS and boost cost of living adjustments for teachers. One individual put his personal interests ahead of our teachers.
That action caused retired educators to get the smallest cost-of-living adjustment of any group of state retirees last year. Retired educators are frustrated and outraged, and they should be.
That is why I introduced a bill this year to put most of last year’s leftover money – $70 million – into OTRS. While that bill did not move, it helped create an enormous amount of pressure to do something for the teachers retirement system.
As we enter the final half of the 2007 session of the Oklahoma Legislature, a number of proposals are on the table to help our retired educators. While we do not have the resources we did last year, almost everyone agrees – Democrats and Republicans alike – that we must do something.
As we craft a solution to help our retired educators, I will do everything in my power to see that the system is strengthened for the future and that the promise Oklahoma made to them is fulfilled.