What follows is my update for this week concerning the massive government pork spending contained in a recently approved House Bill. I greatly appreciate those who are willing to pass the word about the circumstances surrounding this legislation and the negative consequences of big government spending. This bill included spending in the Guthrie area. A recent survey by the Guthrie News Leader found that 73% of those polled disagree with my vote against this bill. So I am very thankful for all of those who are willing to help educate their friends and family about the problem created by pork spending even when it is happening in our area. Thank you as always for staying informed about what is happening in state government. Please do not hesitate to send your feedback to me at email@example.com.
Voting Against Pork
In my legislative update published May 8, I wrote about the way inappropriate government spending is passed through the Legislature in a last minute budgeting process at the end of session.
I talked about how the process is used to benefit politicians and used an example of how this spending sometimes hits close to home. I referenced how hard to trace "pass through" appropriations were used to buy a train from a company in which State Senator Gene Stipe had an interest. I explained my commitment to trying to recognize and oppose this type of spending this year in the legislature. In the process, I researched past appropriations bills.
I should not have been surprised when at 8:49 PM on Monday night, May 23, House Bill 1278 made its way to the House Floor Calender where it was to be considered on the following day.
On the surface, HB 1278 was just an appropriations bill for the Oklahoma Tourism Department. But with research it become obvious that Senate budget negotiators had loaded up the bill with pork. The bill included several hundred thousands of dollars of "pass through" spending. Pass through spending is spending that does not really go to the appropriated entity but is "PASSED THROUGH" to an outside organization. It included a 1.2 million dollar appropriation in a line item titled only as multi-county organization and thousands more for a Shakespeare event, Red Earth, the Greenwood Cultural Center, the Summer Arts Institute, the Oklahoma Film and Music Commission and the Pollard Theatre in Guthrie. One of the most controversial provisions was an appropriation of $200,000 for a line item known only as "A Pocket Full of Hope."
Democrat Representative Terry Harrison of McAlester debated against the bill. Harrison expressed his disbelief that such bizarre projects would be funded. He referenced a Gene Stipe scandal by suggesting that we were better off investing in a dog food plant in McAlester. Harrison stated that in order to find out about "A Pocket Full of Hope" he had googled that name on his computer and was led to the website of a Chicago, Illinois based company.
I shared this disbelief. Were we as legislators really supposed to spend $200,000 of the taxpayers money with the only guidance as to what we were spending this money on being a five word line item known as "A Pocket Full of Hope?"
The legislator responsible for presenting the bill to the House acknowledged that the bill had problems. He appealed to us to vote for the bill, not based on the merits of it, but because the House negotiators had reached a deal with the Senate and we needed to honor that agreement.
It was obvious from the start that the bill faced the possibility of defeat. Twice, efforts to stop debate on the bill were voted down. When it came time for a procedural vote in order to accept the negotiated language, only 38 Representatives voted in the affirmative. This presented a potential problem as in order for the bill to pass, there needed to be 51 yes votes. Since the bill faced possible defeat, it appears as if both the House Republican and Democrat leadership went to work to whip their members into line in order to preserve the negotiated deal between the House and the Senate. In the end, 54 Representatives voted for the bill, which gave it three more votes than the margin needed to pass. There were 31 Representatives who simply did not vote at all. I don't believe I have ever seen final action on a bill where so many Representatives chose not to vote.
As you might imagine, this sparked a bit of debate in our Republican caucus. I believe a number of Republicans were not at all happy about having to insure the passage of pork spending, but neither did they want to throw a last minute monkey wrench into the budget deal between the House and Senate. In other words, a good number of conservative Republicans were victimized by the process of negotiating with a Senate which is partly controlled by Democrats.
While I can understand the position my colleagues faced, I personally felt it was important to stand on principle. I did not agree with the concept of wasting thousands of taxpayers' dollars simply because of politics. There was never any doubt in my mind on how I would vote on this bill. I have voted against a number of appropriations bills which I felt contained inappropriate government spending, but never had I seen a bill which contained such obvious pork as did HB 1278. So in spite of the fact that part of the funding in HB 1278 was headed to Guthrie, I felt I should honor my commitment to vote against pork and did so by voting no.
Following the vote, Representative Paul Wesselhoft provided a press release giving HB 1218 his "Skunk Master" of the year award. Each year Representative Wesselhoft awards this honor to the smelliest bill of the year. In his press release, Wesselhoft announced that he was also awarding clothes pins to the 15 courageous representatives who opposed the senatorial pork. Wesselhoft provides the pins so that Representatives can close their noses when dealing with the bill.