Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Hello again, everybody! Over the next several weeks, the celebration of Oklahoma’s Centennial will be in full swing.
Compared to most of our neighboring states, Oklahoma is young. In fact, most communities in my Senate district are older than Oklahoma. As young as Oklahoma is, it is remarkable what we have achieved.
During my recent tour of area schools, one question almost always came up. “What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Oklahoma?”
For me, the answer is simple. Our biggest challenge is simply believing in ourselves and our state. For much of our short history, Oklahomans have been convinced that our state cannot compete and win – except on the football field.
That thinking has its roots in the dark days of the Dust Bowl, when thousands of Oklahomans were forced off the land and had to make their way to what they hoped would be greener pastures in other states. Our struggles dampened our spirit, and that was difficult to overcome.
In fact, a recent governor spent a great deal of time and effort telling everything that was wrong with our state, both in travels around Oklahoma and across the nation. I see our state as being kind of like a family; you don’t air your dirty laundry where everyone can see it.
Certainly, our state has challenges; we can do better in so many areas. But, to focus on the negative at the expense of the positive has a troubling affect.
Our achievements as a state can get overshadowed by efforts at partisan politics – and neither side is completely innocent in that effort. Sometimes in politics, the trick is to make the other side look so bad that your side gets the votes by default. While that sometimes might be a good political strategy, it is a poor foundation on which to base a state’s future.
More important than the political fortunes of either party is the futures of the children who will live most, if not all, of their lives in Oklahoma’s second century. We all have a responsibility to fight for policies we believe will give that new generation of Oklahomans more opportunity and a better chance to become everything God intended for them to become.
This is an unusual “Senate Minute”; I am not writing about any specific issue, nor am I taking a stand on any particular subject. My point is this: as we debate how best to build a bright future, I believe we have a responsibility to conduct those debates in an environment that moves us forward as much as the policies we consider.
While that may be a tall order, I believe a state that accomplished as much as we have in only 100 years is more than up to the challenge.
Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.
Monday, September 24, 2007
In 2002, while campaigning for Governor, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry campaigned on a platform of financing Oklahoma public education through creation of the Oklahoma lottery. The lottery concept appears to have been presented to Oklahomans as a magic bullet to cure Oklahoma's education challenges, not unlike the House Bill 1017 sales tax increase, which was also presented to Oklahoma voters as an education solution. The lottery was to provide $500 million to the education system.
It is in fact generating only about $70 million per year for public education. This represents about 14% of the money originally predicted. For instance, in fiscal year 2008 lottery revenue will make up only around 2% - 3% of the amount state government gives to the local school districts in Crescent, Guthrie and Edmond. Worse still, Oklahoma politicians, in their haste to spend the money, have incurred millions of dollars of long term debt that must be paid back out of those revenues.
Since the lottery is performing so badly, in a move to cut costs, the Oklahoma Lottery Commission has moved its offices upstairs, turned the first floor of their building into rental space and opted not to refill four vacant staff positions.
Director Jim Scroggins and other officials with the Lottery Commission have announced that in order to cope with these issues, they will ask lawmakers to cut education funding by diverting some of the lottery revenue from education. Commission officials want part of the money spent for administrative costs and promotional efforts instead of public schools. Commission officials have been arguing for the diversion since last March.
The plan has met with strong opposition from leadership in the House of Representatives. Representative Chris Benge from Tulsa, who chairs the Appropriations and Budget Committee stated that "The voters of Oklahoma were told lottery profits would go to our schools and any effort to divert that money is a violation of the voters' trust."
In explaining the shortfall, Scroggins said the Oklahoma lottery competes with Indian gaming for revenue. According to the Office of State Finance, gross revenue from casinos in fiscal year 2007 was $777 million, compared to the approximate gross of $215 million spent on the Oklahoma lottery (with $70 million being sent to education).
I appreciate and support the leadership shown by Chairman Benge in keeping our commitment to the voters.
I expect that the failure of the lottery will lead lottery proponents to continue to propose various forms of lottery expansion, such as the addition of video lottery, Keno and pull-tabs. I also believe an effort will be made for the State of Oklahoma to compete with the tribes by getting into the casino business through the operation of state owned casinos.
In my view, growth of state sponsored gambling, combined with tribal gambling, will encourage Oklahoma politicians to call for expanding the welfare safety net for the poor, the largest societal group negatively affected by gambling losses.
We saw the results of similar expansion this year as legislators increased Medicaid eligibility limits, spending millions of your tax dollars in the process. How much sense does it make for government to seek to enhance government revenue by growing a gambling system that takes money from the poor, while at the same time spending millions on an increasing welfare system?
It appears to me that the primary net result of this bizarre, circular chain of events is an increase of government spending and government influence over people's lives.
Rather than conniving new ways to make money for government, state leaders should focus on diminishing the size and influence of government. I believe we all win when government interference in our lives is lessened. I am committed to supporting policies that achieve this goal.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
This week Logan County residents will have a chance to participate in an exciting centennial event. They also may be able to help shape the way Oklahoma state government operates for the next 100 years.
This Thursday night, September 20, at 7:00 pm, a forum will be held at Guthrie city hall in the city council chambers. Known as the "100 Ideas Program," the forum will be constituted to raise ideas and suggestions from attendees for changes to Oklahoma government.
The program is the idea of Speaker of the House Lance Cargill, from Harrah. Cargill has appointed former State Representative Thad Balkman to head the program and hold meetings all across Oklahoma in order to generate as many ideas for change as possible. Following these meetings a book will be published containing some of the ideas. The publication can then be used by the legislature for possible legislative action in the future.
Earlier this year, Speaker Cargill used the occasion of his opening address to the House of Representatives to announce the 100 Ideas Program and encouraged legislators to support and contribute to the program. The Speaker expressed his desire to ensure that all Oklahomans have an opportunity to provide their input on how they would like to see business conducted in Oklahoma during the next 100 years.
At the close of this year's legislative session, Representative Balkman asked State Representatives to facilitate a forum in their home districts. Speaker Cargill expressed his belief that there could not be a more appropriate place to have this centennial year event than in the county that hosted Oklahoma's first capitol.
The leadership of the Guthrie Lions' Club graciously agreed to host the event in conjunction with the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce. On behalf of the Lions' Club, Former State Representative Frank Davis and Wayne Elder have filled the important role of ensuring that the proper local support is provided to the 100 Ideas Organization.
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the program is that a live telecast will be provided of the event on the City of Guthrie government channel (Channel 20 on Cox).
Representative Balkman has indicated that of all of the similar forums held across Oklahoma, this will be the first 100 Ideas Forum that will be televised in this manner.
I believe one of most important changes that can be applied to state government is opening up government proceedings to the people through C-SPAN for state government. In advocating for the creation of the state government telecast, I have pointed to the success of the local Guthrie government television channel. Having the 100 Ideas Program on local television is a demonstration of this success.
I encourage everyone to attend the 100 Ideas Program and to offer plenty of ideas for the reform of Oklahoma government.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
His California policies really are not in step with the concerns we have here in Oklahoma. He often has been a fiercely partisan member of his political party while describing his own politics as “post-partisan.”
Even so, this last week Governor Schwarzenegger gave a speech that got my attention, not only for what he said but where he said it. In a speech given to the California Republican Convention, he sent a message both parties should hear. “Our party,” he said, “has lost the middle and we will not regain true political power until we get it back.”
With that one sentence, the governor described one of the biggest problems with politics today. We see it in every level of politics, even in the presidential race. In the races for both the Democratic and Republican nominations, candidates try to appeal to the most extreme groups in their respective parties.
Those with extreme positions control the nomination process in both parties. The extremists are the most motivated, give the most money, and often work the hardest in primary races. Once the Democratic and Republican nominees are known and the party conventions conclude, the nominees move toward the political center to reach out to the rest of us.
Because of this polarization, it is no surprise to see the number of those registering “Independent” growing faster than ever. The two parties bend so much to the will of those with extreme positions that more and more people feel like the parties are leaving them with no place to turn.
Registering Independent is one way to protest, and we are seeing more relatively new voters take that step. That is even true in the Senate district I represent.
For example, 19 percent of the registered voters I represent in the 25- to 34-year old age group are registered as Independent. There are more registered Independents in that age group than there are registered Republicans. In fact, voters over the age of 65 are the only age group in which Independent registration is not growing.
An even more disturbing byproduct the polarization of both parties is that our voter turnout continues to shrink. Many disenchanted by the partisan divide do not even vote. Their voices are silenced because they are drowned out by those with extreme positions. Democracy suffers because of that.
When I was elected, I was elected to represent everyone in my district. For as long as you allow me to serve as your senator, I will fight for those issues that make our future brighter regardless of what the extremists may think. For me, that commitment is far more important than currying favor with extremists in either party.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Anyone who travels Waterloo Road as it crosses under Interstate 35 around 8 a.m. or 5:30 p.m. should be able to attest to the need for a solution to the gridlock created by the increased traffic burden at this intersection. In the morning westbound traffic backs up towards Pine and commuters are forced to wait for access to the southbound on-ramp. In the evenings the I-35 off-ramp backs up and those traveling home from work are forced to wait for access onto Waterloo road.
This traffic jam causes some drivers to avoid the intersection altogether by traveling county maintained side roads. This extra traffic places an additional burden on our county roadways.
As a candidate and an office holder I have been approached by residents of this area who have indicated that the problems created by the intersection have caused serious traffic-related concerns. Those who are forced to traverse this intersection have been clear in their desire for a solution to the problem.
I believe that the ultimate solution would be the creation of a new on and off ramp at Charter Oak Road and I-35. However, in the short term it has been made clear that the exchange at I-35 and Waterloo Road should be re-worked.
Earlier this year I asked ODOT officials to check into the situation. Based on their study of the problems created by traffic at the Waterloo Road/I-35 overpass they have recommended re-working the flow of traffic under the underpass. The recommendation includes the placement of two three-way stops on each side of the interstate. This solution would give those who are traveling from the east clear access to enter I-35 going south. It would also provide direct access to Waterloo Road for those exiting off of I-35.
Since receiving word of the ODOT recommendation I have requested the input of a number of individuals who commute through this intersection. Their feedback has been mixed. Some feel the addition of the new stop signs will simply slow traffic down and create more congestion. Others feel that the signage will allow quicker access and as such provide a solution.
On Monday the Transportation Commission officially approved the recommendation. Thus, the new signage should be in place shortly. I respectfully request your input and feedback on how you feel this solution affects the flow of traffic either positively or negatively. If the desired solution is not realized there are certainly other options that could be explored including the placement of traffic lights and possibly the widening of lanes.
I am always happy to assist constituents with traffic-related concerns. Please do not hesitate to inform me of other areas in Logan and Oklahoma counties where there is a need for a similar solution.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
By Senator Jay Paul Gumm of Durant, Okla.
Hello again, everybody! As children, we learn about the game known as “chicken.”
This is a game most of us learn on elementary school playgrounds, but it is also played in politics. A big game of “chicken” with serious consequences for Oklahoma’s children is underway.
Leaders in the House of Representatives declare there will be no more teacher pay raises without so-called “merit pay” being in the mix. They have the power to back up their threat because they can stop any teacher pay raise by bottling it up in a committee.
Many of us believe teachers have been historically underpaid. We have made progress in raising teacher salaries during the past few years, but we still have a ways to go.
For those of us who believe teachers are underpaid, their declaration is no different than the schoolyard bully running at another child as fast as he can, daring him or her to “chicken” out. Sadly, though, the consequences of this game are far greater than a few bumps and bruises.
I do not like most merit pay plans out there. “Merit pay” – more often than not – uses standardized test scores as a key component of determining “merit.” We already over-emphasize standardized tests when evaluating schools.
At their core, merit pay plans that use tests are misguided and do not truly reflect teacher performance. Test scores fail to take into account one fundamental fact: school kids are different, each with different gifts, abilities and challenges.
Some students might have to endure difficult home lives; some might face challenges many of us can only imagine. Those challenges will affect performance.
Public education is the only institution that has to educate all children. Teachers should be able to focus on helping children become what God intended for them to become rather than just pushing for a high test score. How do we quantify when a teacher goes above and beyond the call of duty to help a student work through obstacles?
Those who support merit pay suggest that competition among teachers for merit pay dollars would improve performance. I do not believe that would happen. The real competition will be for high performing students – those who test well and, as a result, give the impression one teacher might be better than another.
We can, and we must, do better by our children and those to whom we entrust them – our teachers. We hear a lot about “no child left behind”; merit pay increases the chance that children who test poorly will be left behind as the focus shifts to those students with test scores high enough to boost teachers pay.
So-called “merit pay” plans will not make schools better. Those who advance merit pay hold hostage our teachers’ financial futures and our children’s education just to advance an agenda that is more about looking good than doing good.
Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
During the study,the chairman of the House General Government & Transportation Committee declared his intent to author legislation that would ensure that funding for state roads and bridges is increased by at least $50 million each year.
Legislation approved in 2006 provides for yearly increases of up to $50 million per year for Oklahoma roads until $200 million in new funding is achieved. However, the law contained a "trigger" that limited the annual increase to just $17.5 million if total state collections grew less than 3 percent in a year. This year, early revenue estimates indicated growth was below the 3-percent target and only $17.5 million in new money was approved for road-and-bridge maintenance. However, revised estimates later revealed that state collections grew more than 3 percent but the new funding for roads and bridges was still limited to $17.5 million. This revenue stream is the funding source for the Department of Transportation's 8 year plan. If this bill is not approved and there are future shortages in the growth of state revenue, then funding is endangered for projects listed in the 8 year plan.
On the local level, this is funding that is to be used for such projects as replacement of the Seward Road bridge over I-35 and construction of a new Guthrie viaduct over Cottonwood Creek. In order to see first hand the importance of replacing bad bridges, I would encourage those who are interested to drive beneath the Guthrie viaduct and view the deteriorating underside of the bridge.
Earlier this year, Senator Patrick Anderson and I implemented a strategy of introducing both House and Senate versions of nearly identical legislation that would provide funding for these counties by directing money from motor vehicle tax funds away from the general revenue fund and into a special High Use County Road Fund. Despite the fact that 2006 legislation has begun the process of placing motor vehicle tax funds in the County Bridge and Road Improvement fund, over 50% of the money that we pay for motor vehicle taxes is still diverted for non-road related purposes.
In our efforts to rectify this, Logan County Commissioner Mark Sharpton has been a strong ally. As Chairman of the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments (ACOG), he is able to speak out on county road funding issues with credibility. Senator Anderson, who represents part of Logan County, has also been a foremost advocate of properly financing county roads. Anderson's bill in the Senate provides a second legislative vehicle in case the house version is unsuccessful.
As always, your comments and feedback are greatly appreciated at 557-7350 or online at www.HouseDistrict31.com.