Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Costs & Benefits of a Tied Senate

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! It has been an interesting process learning how to work in a Senate divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

That split has a financial cost. Because things were shared evenly by both parties, it cost the Senate more than $600,000 to level the playing field between both parties. That money ensured that the Democrats and Republicans have equal staff working for them and equal space in which to do the people’s business.

In fairness, that probably is the way it always should have been. Every senator, regardless of his or her party affiliation, represents approximately the same number of people. We are a body of equals because whatever power we have really belongs to the people we serve.

Partisan affiliations do not change that and should not impact the ability of any senator to do the work they were sent to the Capitol to do. Despite the financial cost, the outcome of a tied Senate has been positive for the people of this state. It has required, however, all 48 of us to learn to do things differently than they were done in the past.

For example, a bill I introduced this year to set up a website on which you could search through all expenditures of taxpayer dollars was duplicated by one of my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle.

Rather than fight it out over whose bill would move forward, he and I agreed to co-sponsor the same bill. That probably would never have happened in a Senate in which one party has control.

As a result, ego-driven things such as which senator is listed first among the authors became much less important. The result of the bipartisan work between Senator Randy Brogdon and me was Senate Bill 1, “The Taxpayer Transparency Act.”

The measure is based on federal legislation passed by U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, and Barak Obama, D-Illinois. The measure creates an online database, which will be up and running by 2009, to show exactly how your tax dollars are spent. Both the Senate and House passed the bill unanimously.

Oklahomans deserve to see where their money is spent and on what programs. This bill will preserve that as a right. The Office of State Finance will be in charge of maintaining the searchable website to let citizens see how state dollars are spent.

The worst scandals relating to state dollars come when those in power try to hide how they are spending your money. By providing openness, we are empowering you with an even better tool to hold us accountable, and engendering trust in government – a cornerstone for a free society.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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