Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Open Door Policy - Dec. 30, 2008

I hope everyone had the chance to enjoy the holiday with family and friends. It was a pretty quiet Christmas for the Dorman family in Rush Springs. I spent Christmas day with mom and later at a movie with the Meyers family. She and I also drove to her hometown this past weekend to see relatives for an after-Christmas visit.

Good luck to the Cowboys versus Oregon! I'll be watching that game on Tuesday and I will be spending New Years with friends from college and watching the bowl games and the ball drop for 2009. Next week, I get to spend the National Championship game at the Leadership Oklahoma conference where I'll be presenting on how the legislative process works in Oklahoma. We are beginning the time when things get busy at the Capitol and I'll be spending most of January visiting local schools and civic organizations speaking about the upcoming session, along with pre-session committee work. I will also be touring a prison in the near future to visit with prison ministers in regards to policies they face with the state.

The committee assignments were given out last Wednesday and I was very pleased with the positions I received. Speaker Benge placed me on four committees and I look forward to serving on them for the next two years. I was one of three Democrats that received four committee positions, so I was very honored with his trust in me to handle the job. I have also scaled back on some of my positions at the Capitol in caucuses where I felt work was not getting done as it should. I plan on dedicating more time to the committee work and to working on issues tied in with legislation by trying to find bipartisan solutions.

The committees I will be serving on this next term will be:

1) Appropriations and Budget - dealing with the state budget and the anticipated cuts in services and agencies;

2) Rules - the committee that deals with much of the controversial legislation, such as constitutional amendments and policy changes;

3) Administrative Rules and Agency Oversight - approves or rejects rules changes that govern state agencies and review performance of the agencies; and

4) Common Education - deals with all issues involving schools grade kindergarten through twelfth grade.

I'm looking forward to my service and I feel the membership was well thought out for the upcoming hard times we will see here in the state over the next couple of years. We have not seen as much of the economic hardship here as have the other states, but we must still plan on doing all within our power to provide for our citizens, but maintain a balanced budget and be responsible with our state fiscal policies. Now more than ever, we need bipartisan support for many issues and I appreciate the Speaker for placing that faith in me with these committees appointments.

It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is joedorman@okhouse.gov at work.My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is http://www.msplinks.com/MDFodHRwOi8vd3d3LmpvZWRvcm1hbi5jb20= on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Starting A New Session

Starting a New Session
The past few weeks have been busy as I have been focused on the 2009 legislative agenda. I look forward to working as the house author of a reform-heavy agenda of House and Senate bills including issues such as: a new round of government modernization, term limits for statewide officials, prohibition of using taxpayer funds to hire contract lobbyists, and legislation prohibiting Oklahoma from entering into agreements with Canadian provinces and Mexican states to share your driver's license information.
In addition, I will be carrying several bills requested by constituents concerning issues of local concern.
I will be serving on four committees this year. They are: Agency Oversight and Administrative Rules, Public Safety and Homeland Security, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services, and I will be the Chairman of the Government Modernization Committee.
I am very excited to serve as the Chair of the Modernization Committee and since receiving this appointment, I have been working hard to keep up with all of the ideas and suggestions for government modernization. I appreciate this input and greatly value the feedback. Please do not hesitate to send me your ideas (jwmurphey@gmail.com or 315-5064).
One area that will receive the most immediate focus in regards to modernization is the state's purchasing system. The current system is somewhat antiquated and a 2007 house study found that millions of taxpayer dollars could be saved with the implementation of better purchasing practices. One of the most important reforms will be to get a handle on tracking the money that is spent by the state. Currently, the state does not have a very user friendly centralized database of spending data that can be used by purchasing officials to leverage savings. Can you imagine what would happen to a private business in the business world if the owners of the business could not clearly see where their money was being spent?
If the state can continue developing a system that implements easier documentation of spending, we will not only save money through leveraged purchasing power, but spending can be more transparent.
A few months ago I wrote about the passage of Senate Bill 1 which placed government spending online for people to review. The people are already using this service as a way to monitor government spending. Just last week I received an e-mail from an individual who wanted to know why a state agency was allowing millions of dollars of inappropriate grants. He had been able to review the spending because of Senate Bill 1.
However, this data only includes purchases in excess of 25,000. The spending data is difficult to search and there are no explanations for what was purchased. It is my hope that as we continue to modernize the state's purchasing system, it will be soon be possible to place ALL state spending in a searchable database complete with explanations of what was purchased. This would be a much more effective tool for the people to hold government accountable.
I look forward to working for you this year to endeavor to make government more efficient and accountable.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy New Year, everybody! As 2008 winds down and 2009 arrives, we will see one of democracy’s miracles repeated in capitols across America: the peaceful transfer of elective office.

In America, elective office is not a position of power; it is one of service. The power belongs to the people. Here, hope is more powerful that hate; faith in the future carries more value than the consolidation of raw power.

In Washington, we will watch the peaceful transition of the highest office in the nation from one political party to the other. Clearly, that is a miracle that is a mystery beyond comprehension to much of the world.

In Oklahoma, the changes will not be as dramatic. The governor is mid-term and still has two years before he is term limited and must leave office. The partisan split in the House of Representatives remains the same, now with 40 Democrats in the House of Representatives to 61 Republicans.

The Senate, after two years tied with 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans, now will have a slim Republican majority of 26 Republicans and 22 Democrats. While we have yet to see the new Senate rules, it has been the tradition of the Senate that members of both the majority and minority parties have extraordinary abilities to make their voices heard.

Regardless of the partisan make-up, each senator represents about the same number of people. As such, each senator has the same responsibility and right to make the voices of their constituents heard. That will not change regardless of partisan changes occurring after elections.

The fact that both parties worked together during the two-year tie shows that both sides, despite deep and honest differences, can and will find some areas of common ground. On those areas of honest disagreement, expect vigorous debates – and that is not a bad thing.

The 48 senators represent more than 3.5 million Oklahomans. Our constituents are urban and rural, young and old, and from just about every ethnic background you can imagine. The differences in viewpoint are a given; there will never be agreement on every issue. The challenge we have is to be honest in our debate and fight hard for the issues about which we care.

For those of us fortunate enough to serve in public office, nothing should be more important than to fight for the best interest of those we serve; anything else is simply unacceptable. As we enter this new year of change, that will be an unchanging goal of mine as I stand for you on the floor of the Senate.

As always, feel free to contact me with your comments, questions or concerns about our future. You can reach my Capitol office at (580) 924-2221 or (405) 521-5586. You also can reach me through my website at www.gumm.us or by email at gumm@oksenate.gov.

Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a very Happy New Year’s Holiday, and may God bless you all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Changes expected as Republicans control legislature

Changes expected as Republicans control legislature

Karen BradyThe Express-Star

December 17, 2008 04:37 pm— For the first time since statehood, Republicans hold the majority in the Oklahoma State Senate as well as in the House of Representatives.

"There will be plenty of changes, we can expect that," said Senator Ron Justice, R-Chickasha. "I think it's interesting that for the first time in the history of the state, Republicans have held the majority in the senate. We have in the house for a few years, but this is the first time in the senate. Basically, it puts more Republicans in leadership positions on committees, but Senator Coffee, (President Pro Tempore), has appointed Democrats as vice chairs and I think he has been very open, evaluating people's backgrounds and expertise as far as committee assignments."

Justice credits the state's conservative values for Oklahoma's change from a "blue" state to a "red" state.

"We talk a lot about parties and issues that affect rural and urban areas; it's not just party-line voting," he said. "The important thing is that with the Republicans in the majority, a lot of goals have been set, and it's important to stand by our commitments and continue to do the things we promised to the people and to stay focused on the things we've talked about."

While State Representative Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, admits it is harder to get bills heard when you are in the minority, he feels his conservative beliefs are an asset to him.

"I'm fortunate to be able to work better with Republicans than other Democrats because of my background and beliefs as a moderate conservative," said Dorman. "We knew things would change when the Republicans took over, but it really stayed the same - it just flipped. I've worked with a lot of Republican members so they know they can work with me."

As far as committee assignments, Dorman said the system stayed "basically the same."

"People still get to serve on three committees, but maybe not the ones they want," he said.

Freshman representative Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle, who was recently named a deputy whip under the leadership of Majority Whip Mike Jackson, R-Enid, hopes to be assigned to the Ag Committee because of her personal involvement in agriculture.

"I prefer ag and natural resources because I'm involved in agriculture and they have to do with the new state water plan," said Osborn. "Statewide water resource board meetings make huge decisions about what happens to Oklahoma's water.Texas is wanting to buy our water from the Red River, but you don't sell precious natural resources just for money; the state has to chip in with new infrastructure."Osborn said as a deputy whip, her duties would be to keep an eye on upcoming bills, how people may vote and keep up momentum."I'll act as an open ear as to how people are thinking about voting and whether they need more information," said Osborn. "It's all new to me, but I think it sounds interesting and I'm looking forward to it; there are some real exciting programs."
Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.

Open Door Policy - Dec. 22, 2008

I want to start off by wishing everyone out there a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I had a busy week as I was able to catch up with many people at their end of year gatherings and parties. I was able to enjoy time with the Grady and Caddo County Superintendents, the Cyril school teachers, the Elgin school teachers, the Rush Springs Lions Club and several other groups and individuals. I also had the chance to visit with a group of students from Cement Public Schools as they took a tour of the Capitol and I prepared chili for the staff at the Capitol earlier this week as a thanks for the great job they did this past year for us.
The bill deadline for writing language will be on hand next week, so I've been working some long hours getting the wording correct in the bills. Among the ideas I requested, here are a few of them:
1) a bill to deal with alternative fuel conversion for vehicles and a credit for stations to install fueling ports, along with training of equipment at the career tech centers;
2) legislation establishing a debit from the Rainy Day fund to cover the cost of federally declared disasters for the 12.5% match the state has to pay;
3) language to set up a revenue stream to fund the solvency of teachers retirement from oil and gas lands currently directed at to the school lands permanent trust;
4) legalization of Utility Terrain Vehicles on county roads;
5) exemption of 4-H and FFA premium checks at livestock auctions by declaring them scholarships and exempting the sales tax on auction items for non-profit charities;
6) establishing a tax credit for medical personnel who volunteer time at secondary school athletic events; and
7) providing for water needs for emergency management in rural areas through rural water district assistance.
I will also have a few other ideas to file and I will be carrying several bills from Senate authors. If you have any suggestions on bills, please contact my office and I will look into them.
I hope you have a safe, warm couple of weeks over the holidays and be careful out on the roads, whether it be icy weather or watching out for the other people on the roads.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is joedorman@okhouse.gov at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is http://www.joedorman.com/ on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Giving our Money to the Corrupt

Two weeks ago I wrote about a future discussion in the Legislature between those who believe Oklahoma can improve economically by reducing the size of government and lowering taxes, and those who feel that Oklahoma should continue to develop a wide array of giveaways in the name of economic development.

As State Representative, I have observed that whenever a new problem crops up, it takes very little time for people to look to government to provide a solution. All too often they fail to account for the fact that if government expands to provide the solution, it will make politicians more powerful, and better enable those who wish to use this power for inappropriate or counterproductive purposes.

In the case of economic development, those who advocate for giveaways to incentivize business will point to the problem of economic blight and ask for the government to take away our taxpayers dollars, give that money to politicians or bureaucrats to control, and then give them the power to determine who receives the benefit.

A prominent example of this type of abuse has been alleged in the state of Illinois. Illinois Governor Rod
Blagojevich is accused of trying to strong-arm the Chicago Tribune into firing critical editorial writers by leveraging his power to help give the Tribune millions of dollars.

Formed in 2003 by Governor Blagojevich, the Illinois Finance Authority is probably similar to any number of Oklahoma boards and commissions. Basically, the Illinois Finance Authority can act on behalf of the government, but it functions much like a private enterprise. Their goal appears to have been to issue taxable and tax-exempt bonds, make loans and invest capital to help local government, businesses, education, health care, not-for-profit organizations, agri-industry, etc. via market-specific financial services.

The Chicago Tribune owned an asset that it needed to sell: Wrigley Field in Chicago. The governor is accused of advocating for the Illinois Finance Authority to take control of the stadium's title so the Tribune would not have to pay capital gains tax on the sale. This would potentially save the company about $100 million. Because of these savings, there would be more incentive for the Tribune to sell the stadium to the government instead of a private enterprise.

On the surface, the Finance Authority appeared to be able to meet any number of needs that its supporters felt should be met by the government acting in this capacity. In reality, however, it appears the Finance Authority was the governor's tool to wield an enormous amount of inappropriate influence over the people.

I feel the people are much better served by a smaller government which enacts low taxes that are fair to everyone. Keeping taxes high allows the politicians to create these complicated entities that can do much more harm than good. In this case, it appears that the Finance Authority may not only have enabled an allegedly corrupt politician, but may also have warped the free market process. It appears to have promoted an environment in which corruption could flourish. How many other examples of this type of abuse are occurring across the nation but are simply not being exposed?

This reaffirms my opposition to efforts in Oklahoma to extend power and money to these types of organizations in the name of economic development.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Proctor Seeks Repeal of Taxes on Second Amendment

Oklahoma House of Representatives
Media Division
December 16, 2008

Contact: State Rep. Eric Proctor
Capitol: (405) 557-7410

Proctor Seeks Repeal of Taxes on Second Amendment

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Eric Proctor today said he will file legislation to repeal the sales tax on the purchase of guns or ammunition in Oklahoma .
“As Americans, we should not have to pay a tax to exercise our constitutional rights – especially our Second Amendment rights,” said Proctor, D-Tulsa.
The measure, by Proctor and state Sen. Kenneth Corn (D-Howe), will not affect any dedicated revenue stream for wildlife or other programs and the measure would have minimal impact on the state treasury.
“In Oklahoma , we have a long tradition of sportsmanship and hunting that precedes statehood and we should protect that heritage,” Proctor said.
He said the tax should also be repealed because it could be a barrier for those needing protection.
“People shouldn’t have to pay a tax to the government if they need a gun in the home for self-protection,” Proctor said. “No matter what, the responsibility to protect your family is greater than the state’s need to generate taxes.”


Monday, December 15, 2008

Cause and Effect of Fiscal Irresponsibility

If you have been able to catch the national news recently, you have been exposed to the debate on whether or not the federal government should continue to give taxpayer dollars to any number of entities, from private businesses to state governments. I suspect that even the occasional reader of my updates is well acquainted with my sentiments regarding the misuse of taxpayer dollars in this manner.

At least one estimate places the potential costs of these bail outs/economic stimulus plans as high as 7 trillion dollars. That amount is 10 times the cost of the war in Iraq. It is more than the cost of the Vietnam, and Korean wars, the New Deal, the moon landing and the Louisiana purchase combined.

This situation reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from President Reagan. He said, "Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."

Many will agree that the federal government has acted irresponsibly and all of the massive indebtedness spending is taking us down a road that we should not be traveling. However, often lost in this debate is the irresponsibility of state government leaders who have contributed to the economic problems in their own irresponsible fashion.

For instance, prior to receiving a private sector loan, the state of California appeared ready to ask for their own bail out. California is facing a budget deficit that may hit $41.8 billion over the next 18 months, potentially forcing the state to issue IOUs for everything from its electricity bills to food providers.

I don't know about you, but the last thing I want is for the federal government to tax me and then use my tax dollars to bail out irresponsible politicians in another state. California should focus on cutting spending in their own state without becoming a burden on the national debt we all share.

In all the debate about whether or not some of the Michigan-based auto industry should be bailed out, there is rarely a reference to the horrible economic conditions and punitive tax policies recently imposed by Michigan politicians. Just last year, Michigan politicians took the unfortunate step of increasing income tax by $760 million and instituted a very damaging business-to-business excise tax projected to cost another $750 million. The state's unemployment rate rose from 6.9 percent in 2006 to 7.2 percent in 2007; the highest in the nation and the highest average annual rate.

I believe that those who serve at the state level have the responsibility of creating a business-friendly economic climate and should never incur unnecessary long-term debt. To create punitive conditions that play a part in forcing businesses to see the need for government incentives is very unwise. And it is wrong for state governments to incur unnecessary long-term spending (bonded indebtedness) which makes it harder for them to reduce spending in tough economic times.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for Dec. 12-18, 2008

Hello again, everybody! Preparations continue for the 2009 session of the Oklahoma Legislature.

Last week was the deadline by which we could request a bill to be drafted. From this point forward, the only bills that will be introduced are those that have already been requested.

This week, we will get our first budget estimates for the fiscal year that begins next July 1. The budget for that fiscal year is what we will write during the 2009 session of the Legislature. Those first budget numbers will give us a glimpse of the national economic slowdown’s affect on Oklahoma’s economy.

As always, the budget will be job number one for the Legislature. Still, dozens of other issues will be on the table and we are starting to see what the some of the big issues will be.

Health care continues to be a concern for almost every Oklahoma family. Making health care more affordable for more Oklahomans is a top priority. The will be a variety of bills on this subject. If you believe some of the editorial pages in the state, our efforts to end insurance discrimination against autistic children will be one of the hot-button issues.

Also, what to do to keep Oklahoma’s energy industry strong will be near the top of everyone’s agenda. Much of Oklahoma’s budget strength comes from revenues generated by energy production. With declining energy prices, our challenge will be to encourage continued domestic production in Oklahoma. If we do not, then our budget is at even greater risk.

The issue of water will no doubt be a critical one for the entire state. Oklahoma is under the gun, so to speak, due to a federal lawsuit filed by a Texas group saying our moratorium against selling water out-of-state is unconstitutional. Our challenge is to ensure we protect Oklahoma’s future by balancing resources with our state’s needs over the next century.

I was taught in college by my political science professor Bruce Johnson that politics is the “authoritative allocation of value,” which is a fancy way of saying “who gets what, when and where.” What will guide me during this upcoming historic session is to ensure that every Oklahoma family has an opportunity to make a future that is better than our past.

There will be side issues to be sure. Some will be unable to resist the age-old political game of tossing so-called “wedge” issues out there to misdirect attention away from what is really important.

Even so, the focus must be on strengthening our state, its families and our economy. That is how we build a brighter future. It is that goal that has guided me during my six years as your senator. Nothing will ever change that for as long as I have the honor of serving you and all of Oklahoma in the state Senate.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

End the Grocery Tax - Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for Dec. 5, 2008

Hello again, everybody! Some ideas, however good they may be, simply take time to find a foothold in the Oklahoma Legislature.

This week, a news story originating in the metropolitan newspapers related the number of bills that have been “recycled” for the 2009 session of the Oklahoma Legislature. There was even an editorial in one of the papers about the re-introduced bills.

Several of these re-introduced bills were ones that I have written. The truth is that recycled bills are nothing new, and they represent a key strategy for getting something enacted.

Sometimes, it takes years to overcome all the obstacles every bill faces, even very good proposals. Re-introducing bills is a way to wear away the opposition and enact some very good laws.

For example, the back-to-school sales tax holiday was introduced several years in a row before we were finally able to break down the wall of opposition and make it a reality two years ago. It is one of the most taxpayer-friendly proposals ever enacted by the Legislature.

Another tax cut bill for which I will continue to fight, even in years like 2009 when it looks impossible, is repeal of the sales tax on groceries. This is one of the most burdensome of taxes on middle class families because it is a regressive tax.

“Regressive taxes” put the greatest tax burden on those who can least afford to pay it. Regressive taxes take a greater percentage of middle class families’ income than they take from higher income people. The sales tax is a textbook example of a regressive tax.

The state’s dependence on the sales tax – along with cities and counties – puts a heavier tax burden on those among us least able bear it. As a result, middle- and low-income families have a higher effective tax rate than the wealthy, and that is not fair.

During my time as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, we made the tax system much fairer for middle class families by passing the two largest tax cuts in Oklahoma’s history. Those efforts, however, are incomplete so long as Oklahoma charges sales tax on groceries.

We need to move Oklahoma’s tax code farther in a direction that will be good for families of every economic level. The best way to do that is to continue hammering away at our dependence on the sales tax and the harm it causes to middle class families.

Ending the state grocery tax, like the back-to-school sales tax holiday, puts money back into the pockets of those who need it most. If we are going to cut taxes, we should cut one that hits families hardest.

It has been said that persistence is all-powerful. I agree. Until the bill becomes law, I will persistently fight to end the grocery tax. I owe you, and all the people of Oklahoma, nothing less.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Open Door Policy - Dec. 10, 2008

This past week, I was able to attend the Oklahoma State Fire Marshall Commission meeting in Chickasha and see friends from the fire service. At this meeting, Preston Burchett received the Commission's Award of Valor for risking his life to save a person trapped in a vehicle that was on fire. The world needs more heroes like this young man.

I was also able to spend this past week with the Professional Improvement instructors from my three counties in District 65. The P.I. Instructors, most commonly called FFA teachers, gather each year to discuss the activities they have participated in with their kids and enjoy fellowship with the upcoming Christmas season. I informed them of one of the bills I'll be filing regarding the tax exemption of the premium checks the students receive at stock shows. These checks go to cover the costs relating to the animals they show and I consider this an educational component of their program. We will classify the checks as a scholarship rather than income and this should exempt both their state and federal portion of taxes due on their projects.

Another topic of discussion at each of the three meetings centered on new policies relating to absences by the students. There is an updated directive issued by the State Department of Education stating that students may only miss up to ten days for activities, but with special permission by the local school board, can miss an additional five days for recognized events. There is also a waiver for attendance beyond those 15 days for state and federal competitions where the students will be participating, as well as as paging for the legislature. There is also consideration given to managers for sports teams and cheerleaders as long as the school counts them towards the team component.

I visited with State Superintendent Garrett on Monday about this process and we both agree this will allow students to gain more of an educational experience through their activities as long as they are responsible with their school work. She, along with Dr. Phil Berkenbile, the State Director of Career Techs and Danny Rennels, the Executive Secretary for the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association worked very hard to update this policy to allow a more sensible balance between the classroom and educational opportunities through various school sponsored extracurricular activities. Students flourish when they can broaden their horizons and contribute to their school and community through activities outside the classroom. All three of these leaders are to be commended for their work to help Oklahoma students grow as citizens.

It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is joedorman@okhouse.gov at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is http://www.joedorman.com/ on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Cut line: Reps. Joe Dorman and Leslie Osborn, Sen. Ron Justice and members of the Oklahoma State Fire Marshall Commission honor Preston Burchett

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Two Approaches to Growth

Recent comments by former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating and the transition of leadership in the Oklahoma Senate have once again brought focus to an important change that needs to occur sooner rather than later.

In a radio interview conducted last month, Keating stated he'd like to see the new Legislature repeal the state income tax. Keating explained that while he was governor, he heard constantly from business people and others that the repeal of the income tax would stimulate business growth in Oklahoma.

In 2004 and 2005 during an economic upturn, legislative changes in the House of Representatives made it possible for some tax reforms to occur and as a result, the first steps were taken towards eliminating this punitive tax.

Other states also appear to be enacting tax reforms, as a recently released report from the Tax Foundation shows that Oklahoma's tax burden has moved up to being the 19th highest in the nation.

I believe there will be two distinctly different trains of thoughts to emerge in the Legislature on the subject of tax reform.

The first approach is represented by those who know that Oklahoma must eliminate taxes in order to be competitive for new business. This is fair for all parties involved because the tax code would keep taxes low for everyone, thereby keeping the incentive for growth.

The other viewpoint is represented by those who believe that in order for Oklahoma to grow, it must keep taxes at current levels and create a number of incentives and tax loopholes to compete in an ever-growing war between the states over who can offer the best giveaways to prospective new employers.

The second approach is rife with potential for corruption and abuse. The people who have the power to hire lobbyists and finance politicians' campaigns will use this system to make sure they receive incentives at the taxpayers' expense, while small businessmen and average people will not be able to afford to make this same "investment." Worse yet, this approach will be subject to the same abuse that has been exposed in the past, when several Oklahoma's legislators were prosecuted for using similar programs to funnel money for personal benefit.

This approach also keeps an elite class of legislators, bureaucrative central planners and their friends in a very powerful position since they have the power to determine who succeeds and who fails, instead of success being dependant upon the hard work of individuals. If taxes are simply reduced across the board, the power of the elite is much more limited.

During the next two years, I am committed to working hard to expose the inefficiencies in state government so that spending cuts and comprehensive tax reform can occur sooner rather than later.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Putting A Stop To Inappropriate Lobbyist Giving

One of the issues about which I have felt the most strongly has been the inappropriate nature of special interest influence over policy makers. One of the foremost manifestations of the inappropriate influence has been the ability of these special interests to give personal gifts to legislators.

I do not believe it is any more appropriate for a lobbyist to give a gift to a legislator than it would be for an attorney to give a gift to a judge who was ruling on a case in which the attorney was a party. In both cases the gift giver receives a direct benefit from the decision of the recipient.

As such when I sought election to the legislature I did so on a platform of not taking personal gifts or contributions from lobbyists or the groups that hire lobbyists.

When I first entered the legislature just two years ago this inappropriate giving was nearing an all time high point. In 2007, over $150,000 of personal gift giving was reported by lobbyists. This number was probably just a percent of the total gift giving as a significant amount of gift giving probably did not meet reporting requirements.

Following the 2007 session, I proposed that if gift giving is going to continue to be allowed at the very least there should be a "No Gift List" on which legislators could opt in in order to demonstrate to the people that they did not want to be a part of the status-quo. I also figured this proposal would allow the people to hold their legislators responsible when it is time for re-election.

I believe there are a significant number of legislators who do not support the gift giving policy who will opt in to the "No Gift List" if they are given the opportunity.

Also, following the 2007 session the Ethics Commission took the fantastic step of proposing to place a cap of $100 dollars on the amount of a gift that a lobbyist can give to a legislator. This proposal could have been disapproved by the legislature. However, in a move that is a credit to the leadership and membership of both the House and Senate there was no effort in the legislature to stop this proposal.

As a result this new limit is now taking effect and I believe it will substantially cut down the amount of gift giving that will occur in the upcoming session. Progress has already been made, as in 2008, lobbyists' gift giving dropped to just over $80,000.

Now the Ethics Commission is meeting again to hopefully take another step forward in stopping this inappropriate practice. I believe the Commission will vote for a proposal that will either ban gift giving or possibly create the "No Gift List" that will allow the people to better hold their legislators accountable.

All of this progress would not have been possible without the work of some people who are taking the idea of accountability in government very seriously. One of them is Ethics Commissioner John Raley. Raley has been the driving force in asking his commission to consider these reforms.

Another is Guthrie resident and Rose State political science professor John Wood. Professor Wood has diligently worked to bring innovative reform proposals before the Commission which has certainly helped to frame the debate on this issue. It is a real honor to have a local Guthrie resident making such a big difference for government reform.

However, this progress will not come without opposition. The state Chamber of Commerce appears to be launching a campaign to prevent the ban and it seems that legislation will be introduced to roll back the new limit.

I will be sure to keep you updated about the progression of this important reform.