Monday, May 5, 2008

Will the Legislature Spend Us into Deeper Debt?

One of the biggest remaining issues yet to be settled by Oklahoma legislators concerns whether or not they will issue millions of dollars of new debt.

I have always been an outspoken opponent of new debt spending. One of my favorite quotes is from President Calvin Coolidge, who said, "Nothing is easier than spending the public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody."

This is aptly illustrated when it comes time for lawmakers to spend the money of our children and grandchildren. It is irresponsible for politicians to saddle citizens with millions of dollars of debt and allow the bill to come due when they are no longer in office. This places debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren, and makes reducing the size of government difficult. Government will be forced to keep taxes high to pay off the debt, plus the interest that goes along with it.

It is also important to remember that the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits state government from going into debt without a vote of the people. However, years of creative interpretation by the judiciary has made it possible for those who advocate public debt to open up a Pandora’s Box of spending. This allows politicians to load up debt proposals with legislative pork that they will get immediate credit for, while the bill for their spending will continue to come due years into the future.

If a proposal to create more debt is indeed placed before the Legislature, this will be the second year in a row that state leaders have attempted to incur new debt. One year ago, the governor asked the Legislature to expand the size of government by proposing to commit the taxpayers to more than $666 million of new bond debt. Fortunately, most of this plan was not implemented.

One of the leaders in the fight against debt has been state Senator Patrick Anderson. Anderson wrote to the members of the Legislature this week, encouraging them to avoid new debt.

It was an honor to be asked by Senator Anderson to be the House author of Senate Bill 1398, a bill he sponsored in the Senate. Anderson became concerned after learning that the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education had issued more than $250 million of long-term debt over the past few years. The debt was issued without legislative oversight or a vote of the people. No doubt the repayment of this debt will be reflected in the high cost of tuition. Anderson worked with officials from Higher Education, the Attorney General's office and the State Bond Council to draft a proposal that would set a cap on the ability of Higher Ed to issue personal property debt. The proposal would also require Higher Ed to allow legislative oversight of other real property bonded indebtedness. That proposal was placed into Senate Bill 1398.

Anderson won approval of the Oklahoma State Senate for Senate Bill 1398, and I was able to achieve approval of the House of Representatives for the bill, which is currently in conference committee.

As your Representative, I remain committed to the avoidance of new debt and to the placement of limits on the ongoing practice of inappropriate debt issuance.

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