Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The program includes an organized system for not only processing incoming constituent casework, but reaching out and generating opportunities for constituent concerns to be addressed. It also includes a network of constituent advisory committees, a weekly legislative update, an end of session report, a post-session door to door tour of the district, and targeting growth areas for new voter registration.
I have enjoyed implementing this program. It has allowed me to make a great number of new contacts, and most importantly, has kept me in contact with citizens. I feel that one of the ways special interest lobbyists have been able to have such a strong voice in state government has been because of a strong disconnect between the people and the "state capitol" environment. I think the proper focus for a state representative should be in his or her district, with the people, as opposed to lobbyist hosted events in Oklahoma City.
One of the most exciting aspects of the program is a series of town hall meetings I have scheduled in order to communicate with local residents on a number of issues. Other state and local officials plan to be present also. I encourage all who are interested to attend.
In September, the Guthrie Lions Club graciously hosted the first such meeting in Guthrie with Speaker of the House of Representatives, Lance Cargill. This meeting allowed attendees to share with Cargill their ideas for how Oklahoma government should look in the next century. These ideas are now posted online at 100ideasok.org.
On November 6th, at 7:00 pm, the second forum will be held at the Philadelphia Church of God field house at Bryant and Simmons Roads. The meeting will focus on road related issues and property tax reform. Attendees will include State Senator Patrick Anderson, Logan County Commissioner Mark Sharpton and Oklahoma Department of Transportation Director Casey Shell.
On December 4th, at 7:00 pm, the third forum will occur at Woodcrest Fire Station at Douglas and Charter Oak Roads. This meeting will also focus on road related issues. County Commissioner Kevin Leech will be attending.
On January 15th, at 7:00 pm, the fourth forum will be be held at Pioneer Telephone in Crescent. The meeting will focus on the upcoming legislative session and all issues of relevance to Northern Logan County residents. State Senator Patrick Anderson will be in attendance. County Commissioner Monty Piercy may also be present.
On January 22nd, at 7:00 pm, the fifth forum will occur at Waterloo Road Baptist Church. The meeting will focus on tax reform issues. Attending will be Representative Randy Terrill, who as Chairman of the House Revenue and Tax Committee, is a leader in the fight for tax reform.
I look forward to these meetings and the opportunity to communicate with Logan and Oklahoma County residents on the issues important to them.
Monday, October 22, 2007
When designing the new house committee system, house leadership structured the system so that members of the committees could really focus on specialized areas of committee work. They did this by giving the committees both appropriation and policy oversight in their respective areas. It has been exciting to serve as Vice-Chairman of a committee where I could specialize in an area in which there is a core purpose for government involvement.
In this role, I recently joined Oklahoma State Fire Marshal Robert Doke and a delegation of state government and firefighting officials in visiting the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). There we met with FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison. Administrator Paulson was complimentary of the manner in which Oklahoma officials have handled past emergencies and is supportive of the efforts made in developing additional emergency readiness.
One of the reasons for meeting with Paulison related to developing a truly interoperable 800mhz statewide emergency communications system to allow officials in different agencies to communicate with one another. This issue was perhaps the most controversial that our committee considered in the past year.
The development of the 800mhz system took on added importance after the 2006 Oklahoma wildfires. During this emergency, responders had enormous difficulty communicating and organizing an effective response because there is no statewide system through which responders from one county or region can communicate with another. Law enforcement would also greatly benefit from a system that would allow the highway patrol to communicate with local officers when responding to incidents.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has provided nearly $30 million to Oklahoma in federal funds to set up an 800mhz system along the Interstate 44 corridor which would cover the state's most populous areas. However, the state would need $130 million more in order to cover the entire state. While millions have been spent on the current system, it appears as if the usage of that system is still limited to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. This defeats the obvious purpose of the 800mhz system, which should be to allow all police and fire entities to talk to each other. It is difficult to justify why so many millions of dollars have been spent on a project that does not accomplish the main purpose for which it should be intended.
I believe that new options should be considered for a more cost-effective, internet-based communications system similar to OneNet, the system the State Regents for Higher Education use to provide high-speed communications to Oklahoma entities such as public schools, colleges, universities and local, tribal, state and federal governments. OneNet utilizes fiber optics and wireless technologies to transmit video, voice and data throughout Oklahoma.
This year I co-sponsored a bill authored by Representative Charles Key that would have begun the process of developing an internet based system. While the Key Bill is still pending in committee, it is clear that more state officials are beginning to get on board with the plan to develop a less expensive, but truly interoperable system. This important reform can't happen soon enough, as I believe millions of taxpayer dollars would be saved.
As your State Representative I remain committed to working for the enactment of these types common sense reforms.
Monday, October 15, 2007
A board of unelected state officials recently shocked some of us in the legislature by taking action to approve a proposal to spend taxpayer dollars in the creation of a permanent and unconditional expansion of the welfare system. This was in violation of the clear legislative intent expressed in this year's illegal immigration reform bill.
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers Oklahoma's Medicaid program, voted to approve emergency rules granting taxpayer-subsidized medical coverage to pregnant illegal aliens on the theory that the new child will be a U.S. citizen upon birth. As it is now, illegal aliens are prohibited from Medicaid prenatal services.
This is being done despite the fact that federal law dictates this action may occur only after a state's legislature has given approval. The Oklahoma Legislature has not authorized any expansion of Medicaid for illegal aliens.
Making matters worse, Governor Brad Henry indicated he will sign off on this expansion of the welfare system. In taking this action, the OHCA board and Governor Henry seem to be saying that the taxpayers of Oklahoma should be forced to act as a welfare state for the rest of the world. Oklahoma will join only 12 other states across the nation who have a program like this.
The financial impact of this decision will be about $3 million a year, with $1.19 million coming directly from state funds and the rest from our federal tax dollars. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority reports it is delivering 2,767 babies each year to illegal parents, which costs state taxpayers in excess of $8 million.
This action is likely to provide additional enticement for illegal immigration into the United States. If an illegal alien can give birth to in America, the child automatically becomes an American citizen. When the child turns 18, he or she can in turn sponsor relatives for permanent U.S. residency. By using taxpayer dollars to fund this process, state government is directly enabling those who wish to bypass immigration laws.
It is my strong belief that this is yet another example of how harmful situations are produced by big government. As citizens, we have allowed government to take so much money from us in the form of massive taxation that it has become almost impossible to hold government responsible for their decisions on how the money is spent.
I also question the timing of the emergency rule approval. I do not feel it is a coincidence that the "emergency" occurred just days before House Bill 1804, the Illegal Immigration Reform Bill, takes effect.
It appears the Health Care Authority unsuccessfully attempted to extend prenatal coverage to illegal aliens through the Legislature for the past two years. Now, however, the recent vote seems to be an end-run around the clear will of the people's elected officials.
I believe we will be successful in reversing the decision during the next session of the legislature. I will certainly support the effort to keep your tax dollars from being misused in regard to this issue.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Hello again, everybody! In some cases, it takes years of effort to get a good idea all the way through the Legislature. The back-to-school sales tax holiday was one of those good ideas.
Now, a new battle is looming: the effort to remove state sales taxes on groceries. It is morally wrong to tax food for families. It is even more wrong given the fact that the sales tax on groceries puts a heavier burden on middle- and lower-income families than on anyone else.
The wealthy and the not-so-wealthy all have to pay the same dollar amount on the food they need to keep their family alive. The reason the grocery tax is unfair to middle- and lower-income Oklahomans is because paying the tax costs them a greater percentage of their income.
Middle- and lower-income families also spend a greater percentage of their income on necessities like groceries than the wealthy. That creates for most Oklahoma families a “double-whammy.”
Removing the state’s sales tax on groceries will help level the playing field, ensuring no one is asked to carry more than their share of the burden of funding state government. For me, it is a matter of simple fairness.
This ought to be the most popular of tax cuts – one you see whenever you buy food for your family; but it faces an uncertain future. A strange alliance doomed it in years past; that alliance will again join forces to keep you paying the state sales tax on bread and milk.
There are some who don’t think we should cut any tax at all. Naturally, they oppose removing the state sales tax on groceries. Still, there aren’t enough of them to kill it by themselves.
They team up with those who believe the first tax we should reduce or repeal is the income tax. Reducing the income tax alone is not a bad idea – until you look at the numbers.
The wealthiest among us would unfairly benefit more by reducing the state income tax. Here’s how reducing the income tax instead of the sales tax on groceries will widen the divide between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy.
Reducing the state income tax by one percent would cut taxes by $10,000 for someone making a million dollars a year. A family getting by on $20,000 would save only $200. That’s terribly unfair.
Now, let’s look at the grocery tax. Say a family has to spend $500 a month at the grocery store. Over the course of a year, every family – wealthy or not-so-wealthy – would save $270. That’s fair, and helps those who need it most.
If we are going to cut taxes, let’s cut one that will make a real difference in the budgets of real families. The state grocery tax needs to end, and it needs to end now.
Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.
Monday, October 8, 2007
This fall the House will impanel what I believe to be one of the most important studies of the legislative interim. Representative Ken Miller from Edmond, Vice-Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, will lead a study into consolidating state government agencies.
Last week in my constituent update, I wrote that in order for Oklahoma to compete with Texas for economic development, I believe we must eliminate the state income tax. Eliminating this tax can occur in much faster order if we also do the right thing and cut the size of state government.
Miller's committee is charged with making recommendations to do just that. Speaker of the House Lance Cargill has indicated he is determined to incorporate the findings of Miller's committee into legislation next year.
In order to lay the groundwork for the consolidation study, Speaker Cargill commissioned the House Staff to compare the size of Oklahoma government to the government in surrounding states.
This was not the easiest job, because believe it or not, no official count of the number of state agencies, boards and commissions (ABCs) is even kept by state government. Can you imagine what would happen to a private business in the free market if it could not provide an official accounting of its organizational structure?
In fact, the size of Oklahoma government is so big that the only way to count the number of Oklahoma state agencies is to use a publication of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries which lists contact information for state officials.
The house study returned some shocking results. When Oklahoma was compared with 5 other states of similar size, it was determined that Oklahoma had 515 ABCs, while the other five states of Kentucky, Arkansas, Iowa, Oregon and Kansas averaged 210 ABCs each. The number of ABCs in Oklahoma is almost two and one half times the size of comparable states.
Not surprisingly, the study found that Oklahoma's ABCs have grown at a steady pace over time. In 1957 there were 115 ABCs, in 1977 there were 215 and in 1997 there were 470.
Since 1928 there have been no less than seven statewide studies that recommended reorganization of state government and a reduction of ABCs. Yet there is little record that any action was taken on those reports.
It is my hope that Representative Miller's study will be the first such study to be acted on in a significant manner. I believe it is our duty as legislators to honor the desire of Oklahomans for smaller government. I am committed to helping Miller and Cargill make this desire become reality.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
One of the issues I have long advocated is the need for state government to eliminate the progressive state income tax. I think it is bad policy for the government to tax someone for earning money. I believe this takes away incentive for individuals to work hard and be productive, especially when the benefits of relying on welfare are so substantial. I also believe it is difficult for Oklahoma to compete with Texas for economic growth when there is no income tax in Texas.
This year the legislature cut the uppermost income tax percentage to 5.5%. However, this number was far short of the effort launched by the Chairman of the House Revenue and Tax Committee, Representative Randy Terrill of Moore. Terrill, who has been one of the foremost advocates for eliminating the income tax originally sought to lower the top tax rate to 4.65% by 2009. While the Terrill effort was approved by the House Revenue and Tax Committee, it was later sidelined in favor of the 5.5% rate.Terrill is continuing the effort to reduce the income tax by holding a series of hearings with his committee.
During one of the recent hearings, Phil Kerpen, the national policy director for Americans for Prosperity told the committee that Oklahoma cannot afford to stop the effort to lower the income tax if Oklahoma wants to continue to attract new citizens and businesses. He explained that Oklahoma is not just competing with other states, but is competing in a global economy. There is a 6% corporate tax rate in Oklahoma on top of a 35% federal rate, for a combined 41% corporate tax rate. When the state franchise tax is added in, there is a 43% effective tax rate on companies that do business in Oklahoma - all this before their officers even have to consider paying personal income tax.
Kerpen said that in Europe the average corporate tax is about 25%. In some Asian countries it is even lower. The idea that people can be taxed at whatever rate the government wants and continue to stay and pay high taxes is an antiquated one. People are very mobile and capital is even more mobile. If Oklahoma is going to compete in the global economy and succeed, we need a much lower tax rate.
Between 1980 and 2006, Oklahoma’s real Gross Domestic Product growth lagged behind all neighboring states, according to figures referenced by Kerpen. Oklahoma’s real GDP growth during that period was less than half the rate experienced in New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. Private job growth in Oklahoma lagged far behind Texas, New Mexico and Colorado from 1990 to 2006 as well.
Kerpen also stated that the individual income tax rate is one of the real drivers that determine where people decide to live, how many hours they work and how many businesses they start. It has an incentive effect on all sorts of economic activity. The more you tax people, the less reward they have for working, saving and investing. The result is that they do less in all of those areas. Legislators claim to understand the link between taxes and behavior when it comes to things like cigarette taxes, which are touted as a way to reduce smoking. But for some reason, many lawmakers ignore the fact that taxes on income have the same effect.
The House Revenue and Taxation Subcommittee is expected to conduct several more meetings on the tax issue through November and hear from other national experts. Hopefully, these hearings will continue to bring attention to the need for true state tax reform.