Monday, July 30, 2007
It is only common sense that the large size of government attracts a well funded group of special interests who want to buy their own corner of influence and profit off of the taxpayer. Probably the most disturbing trend that I have noted has been the number of government entities that lobby the legislature for money.
In other words, a public entity, which is funded by the taxpayers, takes taxpayer money which they will no doubt claim is desperately needed to provide vital services and instead spend it on a lobbyist, or number of lobbyists, and marketing materials. All of this spending is targeted at winning even more taxpayer money, some of which can be invested into the next year’s lobbying efforts, making the public entity even more effective in taking more of the taxpayers' hard earned funds. The lobbyists may have access to a large expense account that can be drawn on to flood legislators with gifts and entertainment. Thus, they are extremely effective at swaying legislative opinion as they have constant access to legislators while the average taxpayer has little access since he or she is busy with the day to day responsibilities faced by the average citizen in the real world outside the capitol.
Last week controversy broke out when it was claimed that the executive director of the Oklahoma Municipal League (OML) failed to notify his governing board that he had authorized a $48,000-a-year lobbying contract with the a prominent capitol lobbyist.
As you may be aware the OML represents municipal governments. When you pay your sales tax by buying an item at the store part of that tax goes to city government. Your city government uses that money to pay membership dues in the OML. The OML can use the money to buy the best lobbyist to insure the legislature makes laws that favor city governments. Government has actually gotten so big that one arm of government is taxing us to pay lobbyists to lobby another arm of government.
Worse yet, the OML actually has eight people registered to lobby for them.
OML has also entered into an agreement calling for the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) to pay the OML $49,500 a year. In exchange, OML agrees to distribute the Grand River Dam Authority's promotional materials to its members and cooperate in securing the support of other entities of state government for GRDA's programs.
The Grand River Dam Authority is also a wing of of government as it is quasi-state agency/trust that oversees hydroelectric power generation in northeastern Oklahoma.
Putting this as simply as possible, one government entity (the GRDA) is paying a collective of government entities (the OML) a fee to promote its interests. The OML is in turn investing a significant amount of money in lobbying a third government entity (the state legislature). Much if not all of this activity is financed by you and me, the taxpayers. This is enabled by years of expansion in the size of the various government entities.
Today it is the challenge of the current legislature to prevent this type of abuse by rolling back the level of taxation. Once the amount of money collected by the government is reduced the pressure will begin to take it's toll on the recipients of the government largess. This year the legislature took another small step towards this goal by accelerating cuts in the state income tax. I remain committed to continuing the push for reform by advocating for the complete elimination of the state income tax. I believe this important reform will not only provide for prosperity for Oklahomans but will be an important step towards closing down inappropriate spending.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
This August a new law will take effect making it easier for one of those groups to take the people's money. That law is known as the "Compete With Canada Film Act".
Initially established in 2001, the act was touted as being cutting edge by those who supported it. The Oklahoma Senate claimed the act would be triple the highest incentive of any state in the country in providing cash incentives to Oklahoma's film producers. The bill's author said the law would produce results similar to the state getting a professional sports franchise.
The bill provided a 15% cash rebate on money spent in the state for film production to film makers. In other words, 15% of the film producer's cost of doing business in Oklahoma would be paid for by the taxpayers. The bill also established a number of criteria that the film maker must meet in order to claim the rebate.
You are perhaps wondering why someone in the film industry would have any more right to force the taxpayers to pay 15% of their business costs than those who work in any other industry. Most small business owners would attest that they would benefit if the state were pay 15% of their cost of doing business.
Despite the passage of the legislation a significant number of rebates were not claimed.
Instead of seeing the program as a failure the rebate supporters started lobbying the legislature to set aside a sizable block of funding for the rebate. In supporting this action the director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Commission stated that four or five films were ready come into Oklahoma, and a $5 million expenditure would more than cover the expenses of the rebate money for those films.
A group known as “The Oklahoma Film Project” held a press conference saying they would announce a comprehensive plan to bring domestic and international filmmakers to Oklahoma if the legislature voted to better fund the 15% film incentive rebates.
In 2005 the legislature set aside $5 million of our taxpayer funds for the rebate. The money was placed on a first-come, first-serve basis for the expected flood of film makers who would want to claim the funds.
So, how many film makers claimed the rebate?
None! The $5 million of tax rebates have yet to be used! Not one dollar has been paid out.
At least the taxpayers' costs appear to be limited to the bureaucracy involved in overseeing the failed program.
Once again, instead of acknowledging the program's failure, the legislature approved Senate Bill 623 which goes into effect in August making it easier for the film industry to take the money by significantly lowering the criteria that they must meet to claim the rebate. For example, in the original law film makers had to spend at least $1.25 million in Oklahoma. Now, they only need to spend $300,000. The criteria that the subsidized film be part of a recognizable distribution agreement will be lifted in some cases and requirements that the film production company hire Oklahomans are lessened.
In arguing for the lessening of these restrictions the director of the Oklahoma film commission stated that Oklahoma should no longer try to focus on recruiting big name productions but should instead focus on "small independents.”
So for a third time those wanting taxpayers subsidies for film producers have a new opportunity to take our money. Hopefully the program will once again be unsuccessful and the legislature will take the common sense step of closing the program down.
It is immoral for big government to use it's power to take from us through high taxes and fees so that it can give our money to other individuals and corporations.
Instead of picking and choosing who will succeed in the business world, Oklahoma's leaders should be lowering taxes and regulations. This would enable everyone to have a greater opportunity for success.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
All it takes, we are taught, is that bills have support from a majority of members in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Then, the governor can approve or reject the measure.
Monday, July 16, 2007
This year I enjoyed relating to House District 31 constituents some very good news regarding progress in reforming state government. Some of that progress included the following: accelerating the rate of income tax reduction, strengthening state immigration enforcement laws, cutting most taxpayer subsidies for abortion, passing education reform to encourage new charter schools, appropriating less in the state budget this year as opposed to last year, requiring that documentation of state spending be placed online, calling on state retirement systems to divest of investments with governments of terrorist-sponsoring nations and watching as the Oklahoma Department of Transportation developed a long term plan for paving roads that appears to be free of political influence.
Under the conservative leadership in the House of Representatives, progress continues to be made through a series of interim studies designed to consolidate government agencies and to develop a possible merit pay system for Oklahoma Teachers.
However, I have also reported negative news about passage of the pork-filled Department of Tourism budget which contains line items that appropriate money to non-governmental entities where expenditures are difficult to trace. Another unfortunate occurrence this year was the passage and Gubernatorial approval of Senate Bill 424. The bill, known as the "All Kids" program, greatly expands the size of government and increases Medicaid entitlement eligibility to cover dependants in families with up to $62,000 annual income for a family of four. As many as 42,000 additional people could be added to medicaid roles at a cost to taxpayers of approximately 38 million dollars in state and federal money.
This massive government spending is made possible by a federal program known as the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Created in 1997, the program has been used by several states to promote universal health coverage. Recently, the program has been debated at the federal level as the Bush administration opposes a large expenditure, preferring to limit SCHIP spending to only poor children. However, both Republican and Democrat Governors are pushing for a significant investment of SCHIP funds that could be spent on both children and adults.
Undoubtedly, this type of government expansion reflects a big step toward the goal of universal government health care. A study conducted by Jonathan Gruber of the MIT Economics Department, confirmed that six of every 10 people covered by SCHIP expansions, already have private coverage. In other words, big government spending is eliminating the insurance sector from being able to provide coverage in the free market.
Despite the opposition of House leadership, SB 424 passed the House of Representatives by a margin of 75-21. I believe this reflects a dangerous lack of understanding by legislators in both parties of the grave danger of government interfering with free market forces and of the continued move toward universal government health care.
During my term of office, I have worked to understand the efforts being made to expand the size of government. In the future I will continue to be vigilant in opposing massive government expansion. As always, I appreciate your feedback at 557-7350 or www.housedistrict31.com.
Monday, July 9, 2007
Consolidating State Government
One of this summer's most exciting events in the House of Representatives will be a comprehensive interim study designed to discover areas in which government agencies can be consolidated. The study will explore the possibility of bringing certain state agencies and commissions under the wings of other state entities, with the goal of streamlining efforts and using taxpayer dollars more effectively.
Efforts to consolidate state government are being led by two of my colleagues who represent part of the Edmond area. Representative Ken Miller, who serves as Vice Chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, will spearhead the study. House Speaker Lance Cargill has also committed his support to the effort.
Miller claims that many state agencies are duplicating what other parts of state government are doing. He feels that by removing the duplication, we can make government more efficient and unified in its approach, and thus the people are better served.
I believe the study will produce a number of positive recommendations for agency consolidation and will prove useful in reducing unnecessary administrative overhead, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars.
This year I spent a considerable amount of time analyzing the state government appropriations process. In my analysis, I reached the conclusion that perhaps the easiest form of state government spending abuse to get a handle on is the inappropriate number of state agencies. It doesn't take much to discover that a number of them perform duties that could effectively be reorganized.
Hopefully, the study proposed by Speaker Cargill and Rep. Miller will lead not only to a number of agency consolidations, but to the outright elimination of those which are functioning in roles inappropriate for state government.
Once these recommendations are finalized, and if the political will to act is present, the taxpayers will realize savings as a result. However, the process to streamline government must be ongoing. It is important for the legislature to pass yet another of Cargill's initiatives.
Cargill wishes to establish an independent panel to review state agencies at least every eight years. Modeled after similar efforts at the federal level, the Commission on the Accountability and Review of State Agencies (CARSA) would examine opportunities for consolidating and streamlining duplicative state agencies. Hopefully, this would provide an on-going process that would result in a consistent push for smaller government.
Agency consolidation is just the first step toward true government spending reform. It will be much easier to focus attention on the important task of eliminating waste within individual agencies, once the number of agencies is reduced.
As always, I appreciate your feedback at 557-7350 or www.housedistrict31.com.
Monday, July 2, 2007
Would you be willing to take your child to a doctor who will receive a paycheck no matter how inadequately he does his job? Or would you prefer a physician who knows that a poorly conducted medical practice means he will lose his customer base?
Even the most simple observation of human behavior will reveal that people are motivated to work harder when their compensation is tied to performance level.
How would you feel if your employer refused to increase your pay on merit, but gave across the board pay raises to all employees, without taking into account which employees were the most deserving?
I believe it is unfair when a co-worker who fail to carry his or her weight receives the same raise as those who pride themselves on working hard. In fact, in such an environment, co-workers who do not carry their weight will tend to put pressure on the worker who does a good job. They do not want their own weak work ethic to be exposed by someone else's positive job performance. A socialistic work environment in which pay raises are guaranteed across the board inevitably induces poor job performance, while a competitive work environment with a merit based system entices competition. This leads to quality job performance.
I have worked to enhance my understanding of the challenges facing state government by speaking with current and former state employees. In the process, I made a number of observations based on the feedback I received. I was struck by how demoralizing the workplace is for many of these individuals. One former employee described the situation as being "trapped in a golden cage." Dependent on the benefits that come with the state retirement plan and across the board raises, these individuals are afraid to quit their job and go into the private sector. At the same time, they feel they have little opportunity to advance within the ranks of the huge state bureaucracy.
Last week I wrote about an important solution to this problem. It is privatizing the state retirement system and allowing employees to control their own retirement and thus their own career path.
Based on observations, I also support merit based pay for government employees.
In the next few weeks, the House of Representatives will hold an interim study to look at developing a new pay system for teachers which will be based on how well the teacher does his or her job. It is my hope that this study will produce legislation that can be acted on in the upcoming legislative session, where I believe it will receive strong support from members of the House.
As the Daily Oklahoman recently editorialized, it is wrong for talented teachers to be paid the same as teachers who aren't doing their jobs well but are allowed to remain in the classroom because of government bureaucracy.
A recent study by the University of Arkansas, released in January, demonstrated the success our neighboring state is having with a merit pay system. The study demonstrated that in one year, students under the system improved their math scores in rank by 3.6 to 4.6 Normal Curve Equivalency (NCE). NCE scores show how students rank compared to other students across the country. This figure represents a gain of nearly 7 percentile points for the average student.
If the capitalistic system of rewarding good performance works in the private sector, shouldn't it be good enough for those who teach our children?
Two weeks ago I wrote about upcoming transportation upgrades being made in this area. I appreciate the feedback I received from that update. There is an obvious air of excitement surrounding these improvements. The good news continued this week as it was learned Logan County Commissioner Mark Sharpton has secured another $150,000 from the state in order to pave Simmons road between Coltrane and Sooner. This funding should be available later this year.
As always, I appreciate your feedback at 557-7350 or www.housedistrict31.com.