Sunday, September 27, 2009
I have spent a good deal of time listening to those groups argue about why they needed to continue receiving taxpayer largesse, need more taxes and fees, or want approval for new debt spending. I cannot recall one single time when a representative of any government group admitted to having too much money and suggested that the money be returned to the taxpayers from whom it was taken.
A naive person who did not maintain a healthy sense of skepticism would quickly adopt the point of view that almost all elements of government are terribly underfunded and much good would be accomplished with higher taxes and more debt spending.
Those who advance the notion of more government spending usually do so in a smooth and professional manner but every once in a while, a bureaucrat mistakenly reveals the true state of affairs. This was illustrated when I recently attended a meeting in which a group government officials listened to a very professional presentation by a representative of a government entity. The presentation communicated the need for money faced by the agency and was not unlike any number of similar presentations I have heard over the years.
Following his sales pitch, the presenter introduced to the group a high ranking official in his agency. Apparently unaware that a few state representatives where in the room, that official announced that he had been very busy lately because his agency was nearing the end of its fiscal year and his boss had apparently discovered a few extra hundred thousand dollars and had tasked him with quickly spending the money before the fiscal year expired. After all, the agency wouldn't want elected officials to discover they had overfunded the agency, and certainly the agency did not want to run the risk of facing reduced funding.
To hear a high ranking official make this comment was shocking in and of itself, especially following the recently concluded sales pitch of his subordinate. However, what I found to be the most discouraging was the reaction of the audience. Instead of expressing shock or disgust at this obvious waste of taxpayer dollars, several of the government officials met the comments with applause and laughter.
Their reaction created the distinct impression in my mind that those who celebrated these comments support taking from the taxpayer even when it is unnecessary to do so. This speaks to the fact that they no longer consider their positions to be positions of trust in which their foremost duty is to guard the taxpayers' money.
Incidents like this illustrate the importance of tax reduction and much greater transparency. To this end, I look forward to drafting and sponsoring an aggressive schedule of legislation during the upcoming session that both cuts spending and brings about greater transparency than ever before. The taxpayers must have the easy ability to see how, where and when the government bureaucrats are spending our money.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Over the past two years, it appears HealthChoice has kept rates from significant increases by subsidizing them with investment income derived as part of a increasing amount of reserve funding. However, during this time, because of this subsidy, and possibly because of investment income reversals as part of the downturn in the economy, the plan's reserve fund appears to have dropped from the 170 million dollar level down to about the 100 million dollar level.
These changes led me to predict earlier this year that the HealthChoice board would probably stop subsidizing the rate premiums which would result in a large rate increase for the upcoming year.
Because rates were artificially kept lower in the past couple of years, much of the impact of three years of health care cost inflation will be felt this year.
The HealthChoice board appears to have made the decision to split the cost of the increase among the employees by raising their co-payments and the employers by raising the cost of the premiums.
Fortunately, House and Senate leadership, working with Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland, foresaw this issue and passed legislation impaneling a five-person study group to look at various solutions to the problem. As a member of that group, I believe it is essential for us to develop legislation to keep costs to employees and employers as low as possible.
There are some innovative and creative concepts that have been pioneered in the private enterprise system that I feel we should attempt to incorporate. One of the most exciting is an incentive plan developed by the Safeway Corporation that aims to drive down costs by incentivizing wellness and prevention by rewarding those who stay fit by lowering their insurance costs (which I believe many who are experiencing an increase in co-pays would be happy to take advantage of in order to lower their co-pay).
Another important reform must be to put a benchmark in place so that the entire system can be evaluated on a regular basis and a cost comparison can be conducted to make sure the lowest cost is being passed down. A key component of this ongoing benchmark should be to require the state-run plan to participate in a process designed to compare it to the plans being offered in the private sector. As is often the case, the private sector is much more incentivized to produce a quality product than a government entity.
I hope we can find a solution to reverse the costs increases of this year and I think it is our job as Legislators to make sure these types of increases are avoided in the future.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everybody! As fall approaches, it is time to begin work on issues the Legislature will consider during the 2010 session.
Over the seven years I have served as your senator, the best ideas I take to the Capitol come from you, the people I represent. When compared to some of my colleagues, I am very lucky because my constituents have never been shy about sharing their concerns with me.
The battle three years ago to enact the death penalty for serial child molesters started with a phone call from a grandmother in Marshall County. She wanted us to do a better job of protecting Oklahoma’s children. Because of that phone call, a battle began that ultimately led to the bipartisan passage of landmark legislation to protect children.
The struggle to protect the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer – the underground water supply providing water for many of the communities I represent – began when a concerned group of citizens in Johnston County raised the issue. I will never forget the first visit I made to Tishomingo as a Senate candidate; the Arbuckle-Simpson was the greatest concern expressed.
Those conversations ultimately led to passage of Senate Bill 288 in 2003. That law made certain the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer could not be plundered for profit. The power to protect our future began with the voice of the people.
The “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday was a perennial concern of the people across southern Oklahoma. Hardly a week passed that someone did not visit with me about this most common-sense of tax breaks. Those words shared with me by hundreds of you kept the flame burning, and ultimately led to the passage of the sales tax holiday in 2007.
The case of a former Republican lawmaker who got paid by the state while behind bars on a sex crime caused bipartisan outrage across the state. Oklahomans passed my constitutional amendment to prevent legislators from getting paid if they are behind bars. That was another law that began as a concern expressed by you.
As we begin preparing for the 2010 session, I again ask for ideas from you. Not every idea we have proposed has become law, but we have new opportunities ahead of us. That is the way democracy is supposed to work, and I am proud to be your voice in the Senate.
If you have any ideas for legislation, please feel free to contact my Capitol office. You can reach it by calling (580) 924-2221 or (405) 521-5586. You can also send me an e-mail at email@example.com or by clicking on the “Contact” link on my website at www.gumm.us. It is an honor to work for Oklahoma, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Finally, thanks again to everyone who attended my re-election kickoff on Sept. 14. It was standing-room-only and Deena and I are honored by the amazing outpouring of support we received.
Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.
Following is the prepared text of the speech given by Senator Jay Paul Gumm as he announced his candidacy for re-election to the Oklahoma Senate. The senator announced for re-election at a standing-room-only campaign kick-off held Monday, September 14, 2009, at Sports City Cafe in Durant.
SENATOR GUMM: Eight years ago, many of us gathered to begin a campaign to create a brighter future by building on the progress of the past. We knew then what some of the challenges were going to be; some challenges were unlike any we have ever faced. Together, we built the brighter future we envisioned.
The world, our nation, and our state are different now than we began this journey together. Still, the keys to a renewed vision of a brighter future are what they have always been: better jobs, improved education, and real tax relief.
In the past eight years, we have come far. As our nation and state are in the grips of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, our state in general and our area in particular have remained strong.
While our neighbors in other states have seen dreams stolen and hope destroyed by the economic challenges of these times, the policies we have championed – economic development, lower taxes, improved schools – have ensured we will be the first out of this recession.
In times such as these, we dare not waver in our work or our commitment to a brighter future. In times such as these, we dare not slow in the drive to create our own destiny. In times such as these, we must continue to turn every challenge into opportunity.
I stand before you today, ready to renew my commitment to the people of Atoka, Bryan, Coal,Johnston and Marshall counties – to fight for a future that is limited only by our dreams. That kind of future does not happen by accident. It takes hard work, it takes courage, and it takes leadership. It takes someone who is willing to give everything they have for the people they wish to serve.
That is the record on which I stand as I declare that I will be a candidate for re-election to the Oklahoma Senate.
We must tell the world – time and time again – that there is no better place to live, work and raise a family. We must support families, we must defend freedom and we must create opportunity.
We have much to be thankful for. Still, we must never become satisfied with the way things are. No longer must we allow “good enough” to be good enough. Our lives are too short and our challenges are too great to settle for anything less than the best the future has to offer.
We must dream of a future that is limited –only by the strength of our souls and the dedication of our hearts. My friends, I pledge to continue putting every bit of my ability and my energy to making rural Oklahoma even better – for today and in the future.
As we begin this journey again, I once again ask you for your vote, your support and – most importantly – your prayers. Together, our struggle begins anew, our dreams rise to the challenge, and our work to create a brighter future will never end.
So, let the word go forth that we together we are beginning a new journey to create a brighter future for ourselves and the generations that will follow.
Thank you – THANK YOU – for being here and God bless each one of you, our great state and may God bless the United States of America.
Monday, September 14, 2009
September 8, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: State Rep. Joe Dorman
Capitol: (405) 557-7305
Dorman Conducts Legislative Study
On Incentives for Continued Firefighter Training
OKLAHOMA CITY- State Rep. Joe Dorman conducted an interim study today to look at ways to maintain adequate training for rural firefighters.
Dorman, along with members of the House Appropriations and Budget Natural Resources Subcommittee and officials from Oklahoma State University Fire Training, the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association, the Council on Fire Training and Oklahoma Career Technology Centers discussed further incentives to entice volunteer firefighters to continue training.
According to the Oklahoma Rural Firefighters, 90 percent of firefighters are volunteers.
“We need to maintain the balance for necessary skills and knowledge, but not demand so much that it will reduce recruitment and endanger the number of volunteer departments in our state,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “By expanding the scope of tax incentives to benefit these volunteers when they undergo more training, it becomes a win-win situation for the firefighters and rural Oklahoma .”
According to Ralph Brown of the OSU Fire Service Training, only 45 of 1,000 Oklahoma fire departments are paid with the rest either mixed departments with both paid and volunteer firefighters or strictly volunteer. He noted that there are over 17,000 volunteer firefighters in the state with more needed to protect rural Oklahoma .
Currently, Oklahoma offers a $200 tax credit for volunteer firefighters and a $400 tax credit for volunteer firefighters that take classes to obtain the Fire Fighter 1 standing.
Dorman said he hopes to expand the credits from two credits to four to expand and retain volunteer firefighters.
“I would like to see a $300 tax credit for volunteer firefighters who continue their education then the $400 credit for obtaining Fire Fighter 1 standing, then offer a $500 credit for any training after obtaining Fire Fighter 1,” said Dorman. “It is critical we maintain effective volunteer departments with well-trained firefighters, as well as provide every avenue of funding and affordable training for them.”
Dorman added that 136 hours are needed to reach Fire Fighter 1 standing.
“Many of these volunteers have other full-time jobs and are volunteering as a service to keep their community safe-they are putting their lives on the line for free,” said Dorman. “They need to have these incentives to entice them to use their free time to get more training and stay a volunteer.”
Recently, a glitch in the tax form for the $400 was identified that may have created problems for those seeking to receive the tax credit on next year's tax filing. A new corrected form is now available online at on www.osufst.org, www.okcareertech.org, and www.coft-oklahoma.org
Dorman also encouraged all volunteer firefighters to review the process for applying for the various tax credits offered by the state.
“This is a program that was established to not only recruit firefighters for volunteer departments, but also to encourage firefighters to enhance their training,” said Dorman. “Every bit of knowledge from these classes might save a life and help protect the property of residents of rural fire districts.”
Sept. 1, 2009
I’m sorry I missed last week’s column. It was a busy week and I did not have the chance to sit down and reflect on all which occurred. I’ll try to get everyone caught up to date.
My family lost my grandmother, Jackie Henderson, to cancer this past Friday. She lived in Jacksboro, Texas and her funeral was on Monday. It was a service she would have liked as people reflected on the good times with her and the memories which brought back laughs. It was the first time many of our cousins had been together in years and we agreed that we would try to spend more time together, especially since many of them have children the same age as when we would get together at holidays. She and my grandfather were very supportive of the grandkids and encouraged us to achieve our dreams. All eight of their grandchildren will have completed college degrees (one is in his final year). This is truly the meaning of family values when they worked to improve the lives of the next two generations of their family.
Canadian Valley Career Tech in Chickasha held a ceremony to recognize their achievement of Gold Star Honor Status. This is the highest recognition a career tech in Oklahoma can receive with the percentage of student placed into jobs and participating in various activities. Career techs in Oklahoma help students gain that extra knowledge towards working in a career and often allow them to receive professional certification at a very affordable rate. This is a huge honor for them and I was proud to attend their ceremony.
I also participated in a tax policy discussion with Rep. Randy McDaniel , R-Oklahoma City for the Ok. Society of Enrolled Tax Agents. Randy and I work well together and he is very articulate on the issues. We have a good friendship inside and outside the Capitol and this discussion focused on the changes we saw come through this past year and possible budget issues over the next year.
I also attended the 50th Anniversary of the Chickasha Elks Lodge 2125. This was a great ceremony which looked back over the membership of the lodge since its inception and the work that has been done for veterans and youth programs in the Chickasha area. This is a group of community advocates who donate time and efforts to making their home area a better place. This group, and all the civic groups from around the state, work hard to improve their communities and better people by working towards positive goals.
I have had a couple of meetings with various fire protection entities to discuss tax credits and volunteer trainings. There will be an interim study at the State Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 8 for review on this topic. If you would like more information, please contact my office for details on the meeting.
I’m looking forward to high school and college football kicking off this week. I hope to see you at some of the games. It’s important to support the local teams and provide the extra team spirit for the students to motivate them. My football schedules are printed and should be at many of the local convenience stores and at the gates of the home games in our area.
I hope everyone had a very good Labor Day weekend. I had the chance to visit with some friends from school on Saturday and Monday and watch some football games over the weekend. I’m glad all the football seasons are finally here and see the increased social activities start up in our communities with the beginning of school. I hope all the students are also safe from injury this year and want to wish Sam Bradford a speedy recovery from his injury on Saturday. He used to be a student in the Athlete’s First program, the AAU basketball team which I serve on their Board of Directors. I am working on increasing the amount of medical professionals who attend sporting events for this exact reason to make sure injuries are prevented from becoming worse during sporting events.
The anniversary of the Pledge of Allegiance was on Tuesday. I’m glad to see this is still something that is taught to our students. At church on Sunday, I heard a pre-schooler recite the Pledge back to her grandparents. It’s important for students to remember our country and what makes it great. We can share our opinions in a civil manner and not fear retribution from our government like many other nations.
On that note, I was involved in a discussion about the President’s address to students on Tuesday with two of my colleagues from Oklahoma City last week. Two of my colleagues feared the President would try to exert undue influence over our children and brainwash them. I read the speech and there was no such type of influence. It was simply a motivational speech to encourage students to do better in school and to achieve their highest potential. I am happy when political leaders take the time to encourage and motivate our students to be successful. I go to all my local schools and do a similar address on encouraging them to pay attention to government. If people do not participate in the process, they allow the process to influence their lives without their input. I hope the students are motivated to stay in school and achieve their goals from the President’s speech and the one that I annually give. It will only be through a well-educated society that we make our nation that much greater. I do not put a one-sided spin on the issues and politicians should not use the classroom to enhance their personal agendas, but it is important for the students to have the opportunity to learn about the importance of government in our daily lives and how they can make a difference, even before they gain the right to vote.
Also on Tuesday, there was a meeting held at the State Capitol on volunteer firefighter training and the tax credits they receive. This was an interim study I requested on behalf of some of my local firefighters to look at the increased mandates placed upon them by their federal training entities. There was also a concern on how the tax credits were being promoted and issued to firefighters. I feel this study allowed us to voice the concern that we cannot demand excessive training requirements, but still expect the highest level of training possible for these men and women who protect us. We also came to the conclusion different levels of tax credits should be awarded for higher levels of training achieved. I will be working on legislation for this issue in the coming session of 2010. I would appreciate any input our volunteer firefighters might have and will try to meet their needs with this bill.
On the issue of training, I had the chance to visit one of our state’s premiere firefighter training facilities last week. Eastern Oklahoma County Career Tech has expanded their role in fire protection over the past seven years and provided classes for firefighters of all levels to expand their education. I had the chance to see some local high school students from different schools go through their initial training on equipment and protective gear, along with the chance to tour the different facilities. It is great that much of this expanded from a bill I had the chance to work on several years ago to encourage more training to be “taken on the road” to fire departments, rather than the firefighters have to take their own time and money to travel to classes at different schools.
On Sunday, I had the chance to listen to Willie Franklin, a former OU football player who has become an evangelist. He spoke at the Rush Springs Church of Christ and gave a great lesson of reaching out to individuals. I was moved by this message and hope you might also have the chance to hear him speak sometime in the future. I appreciate the invitation from the Gilleland family to attend this sermon. I also want to wish Darrel and Pauline Haynes a happy 50th wedding anniversary. They celebrated in Ninnekah this past weekend with friends and family.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559 , Rush Springs , OK 73082 and my website is www.joedorman.com on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Upon seeing the ad, and aside from thinking about how wasteful it is for state government to spend money on television commercials, I seriously question how the politicians in Michigan can so aggressively insult the intelligence of American business owners.
Even though I live miles from Michigan, I know all too well that the state has one of the most business unfriendly tax climates, and I would never consider locating a business in that hostile business environment. In 2007 alone, Michigan raised business taxes by $1.4 billion. It does not matter how much money they want to spend on first class television commercials. it is hard for them to cover up the truth.
A recent article in the Wall Street demonstrated just this point. The article stated that Michigan's program is "one of the largest experiments in smokestack chasing in American history, but one thing it hasn't done is create jobs."
The article also pointed to a study by Economist Michael Hicks, a business school professor at Ball State, in which he calculated the rate of return on the corporate tax credits. He found that for every $1 million in tax credits awarded, there were 95 manufacturing jobs lost in the counties where the companies were located, and there was no gain in personal income in those counties. Fortunately, these massive failures in Michigan may mean good news for states like Oklahoma.
For years, state level politicians across the nation, including Oklahoma, have engaged in a foolish arms race by spending millions of state dollars in a recruiting war for offering tax incentives for new businesses. These incentives punish business owners who are already here by giving their new competition an unfair advantage and opens the door to corruption and massive amounts of waste.
High profile failures like Michigan will make it easier for those of us who oppose these schemes to win the critical votes when the next tax giveaway is presented in the Legislature (it seems like some sort of new scheme is concocted or expanded on each year).
By saying no to these types of schemes, perhaps we can focus the attention of Oklahoma's leaders on the polices that will result in true economic development while treating those who currently have businesses in Oklahoma in an even handed manner. What really should be implemented is across-the-board tax reduction for everyone.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Hello again, everybody! Recently, I was in a political skirmish with an organization that issued a report critical of Oklahoma’s back-to-school sales tax holiday.
Passing the sales tax holiday was one of the most important legislative goals I had when you elected me to be your senator. Forces from big city mayors to high-dollar lobbyists worked to defeat the proposal. After years of hard work, perseverance and bipartisan cooperation, we finally overcame those obstacles to pass the bill.
Although the sales tax holiday has been in effect for three years, and is very popular across Oklahoma, some still fight it. One of those groups continuing to oppose the sales tax holiday is The Tax Foundation, a Washington special interest group.
A few weeks ago, this group produced a report that said policies like the popular sales tax holiday are “gimmicks” preventing real tax reform. As the chief legislative sponsor of the sales tax holiday, I was asked by a reporter what I thought of that claim.
I said the group should speak with the thousands of Oklahoma families who saved millions of dollars during the back-to-school sales-tax holiday. Perhaps then, I said, they might have a real-world view of what this policy means to real people and the budgets of real families.
For whatever reason, my comments must have really annoyed this organization. Their director of state projects felt compelled to write to one of Oklahoma’s larger newspapers a “Letter to the Editor” attacking me.
In “The Tulsa World,” Joseph D. Henchman wrote my comments were “political rhetoric and wishful thinking.” Mr. Henchman’s letter ignores the fact the sales tax holiday, for the first time, eased the tax burden on those least able to afford it by reducing the regressive sales tax.
He also ignored the work done when I was chair of the Senate Finance Committee to reduce taxes for every Oklahoma family while calling for more reform of the state’s tax code. On that point, he and I are in agreement. Given this organization’s response to the sales tax holiday, I doubt we would agree on how.
My top tax policy priority for the remainder of my service as your senator is to find a way to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. Of all the taxes we pay, this is the must hurtful to those families who can afford it least. Regressive sales taxes like the grocery tax create a higher effective tax rate for those with lower incomes – and that is patently unfair.
Either this group knew about my work to remove the sales tax on groceries and chose to ignore it in their attack on me, or they oppose what I believe should be the next step to ease the tax burden on Oklahoma families. Either way, it seriously calls into question their veracity on an issue critically important to every Oklahoman.
Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Rep. Jason Murphey, chairman of the House Government Modernization Committee, said the goal of the study is to look at agencies currently sharing similar services and see how those concepts may be spread to other agencies.
“The idea is to look at ways state agencies have realized savings in the past and map out a way to expand those savings to other agencies that are performing similar functions,” said Murphey, R-Guthrie. “The opportunity for savings is huge as services are centralized to a single entity that can be more efficient and effective, all at a lower cost. The private sector has been doing this for years; our state government needs to catch up.”
The Office of Personnel Management testified at the hearing that they provide payroll support services and other human resources functions to more than 40 state agencies, many of which are small and have no need to have a separate payroll or human resources departments.
The Office of State Finance also runs a centralized payroll for several state agencies and proposed an expansion of that program to additional agencies at the meeting.
It is estimated that there are about 114 state employees trained to process payrolls, with about 68 full time employees dedicated to payroll functions across state agencies. Centralization of payroll services could save as much as $2.6 million in salary and benefits alone—even more if Higher Education is included— an Office of State Finance official noted. Additionally, a centralized payroll system would allow each agency to focus on their main mission instead of technical processes like payroll.
A Tourism Department official said the agency has saved an estimated $40,000 per year by working with the Office of State Finance on centralizing the agency’s payroll.
House Speaker Chris Benge said the on-going effort to modernize state movement will continue next session.
“Especially in the midst of an ongoing global recession, we must be more diligent than ever to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent as efficiently as possible,” said Benge, R-Tulsa. “This study will help us will take a look at the innovative steps many agencies are already taking to modernize government and the possibility of expanding those efforts across government.”
Streamlining the thousands of licenses and permits issued by various state agencies is critical to modernizing state government, House members were told at an interim study today.
Various agencies testified at the study about efforts they have taken to make permits and licenses more convenient to obtain, especially by making them available online.
“Often, Oklahomans who need a series of permits or licenses must encounter a long line of bureaucracy, including multiple trips to several locations,” said Rep. Jason Murphey, chairman of the House Government Modernization Committee. “Technology has advanced to a point where these licenses and permits should be made available online and they should be easy to obtain without mounds of paperwork and unnecessary use of staff resources.”
Health Commissioner Terry Cline said it is the goal of the Health Department to have all of their license applications online by July. The department maintains licenses for 108,000 individuals and over 35,000 businesses in Oklahoma, many of which have multiple certification requirements.
An official with the Insurance Department said the agency was able to reduce or reallocate its workforce by 35 percent following implementation of online licensing in 2007. The transition not only saved the department money, but improved customer service and accessibility.
Before electronic processing of licensing was available at the department, there was as much as a five week processing time for new and renewal resident applications. The department also received about 66,000 calls in a year with an average hold time in excess of 10 minutes.
Currently, because of online capabilities, a new or renewal license application can be processed in as little as two hours. Phone calls were reduced by about 20,000 after online capabilities were added. The need for storage space was also reduced as records are now stored electronically.
“These efforts are not just about saving the state money, which is obviously one of the goals, but also improving services to our citizens,” said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. “We have worked hard to make Oklahoma a business-friendly state, and streamlining licenses and permits will be just another step toward that goal, which will help attract jobs to our state.”
Monday, September 7, 2009
I enjoying providing this update because I feel that the roads issue is one of the two issues (the other being public safety) that are at the core of what government should be focused on and I believe that elected leaders have the responsibility to be especially transparent about their performance (or lack thereof) on this issue.
If you are fortunate enough to live in the Oklahoma County District 3 part of my district, odds are that you live on a paved road. Each year, Oklahoma County Commissioner Ray Vaughn spends about $5-7 million in a capital improvement program to upgrade roads and keep them in good shape. This program saves money in the long run because the improved roads require less ongoing maintenance. In my time in office I can only remember one contact from an Oklahoma County constituent concerned about county roads.
If you live in the Logan County part of my district, you may live on a dirt, gravel, or poorly paved road that has many potholes and requires much maintenance. Logan County Commissioners have no capital improvement budget for improving roads, and their allotted funding is used up just by trying to maintain the roads in their current condition. This leads to a "spinning wheels" effect as countless dollars are spent trying to maintain roads that do not have enough funding to be improved. One of the few ways for them to actually pave roads is to push the paperwork that secures state and federal funding when possible.
This will be the second time in my term of office that I have performed this reporting task and I noticed how much longer this year's list is than in 2007 when I assembled the list for the first time. When you receive your copy, you will notice that many of the road and bridge improvements will occur as a result of a series of state and federal funding programs.
I have become a strong critic of this system because we are now forced to elect our County Commissioners not on their ability to maintain roads, but on their ability to push paperwork in order to jump through a bunch of bureaucratic hoops. This is a costly system. It would make much more sense for local tax dollars to stay in local government instead of being sucked up by state and federal government and returned to local government only after the bureaucracy has soaked up a bunch of the money and imposed a series of costly restrictions on how the money can be spent. This is a massive waste of our taxpayer dollars.
This year's list contains about 72 million dollars of funding that local or state officials have secured, including several million dollars which Logan County District 2 officials just recently secured, for paving 15 miles of Forrest Hills, Midwest and Luther Roads. I have been impressed by the hard work these indiviudals have shown in getting the funding. The report is available at HouseDistrict31.com under the Reports menu option.
DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everybody! Politics has certainly been interesting this summer.
In national news reports, we have seen anger, grandstanding, and – most troubling – genuine fear many Americans have about the direction of our nation. The economic downturn is the spark for much of this fear, but something deeper is driving the differences some use to divide us.
Our nation and our state have been at its best when things are at their worst. We have historically put aside differences to confront challenges that at the time might have seemed insurmountable.
In our political system today, there is an “us versus them” approach both sides use to get an advantage on Election Day. That works to win elections, but it is a poor way to win the future. That is why the current political climate across the nation is of such concern; there is more focus on winning an election or scoring a legislative victory than simply doing the right thing.
We see this approach in every level of politics. That approach polarizes the debate, deepening the partisan divide and makes cooperation less likely. Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas; I believe cooperation is critical to making progress on a host of issues, including those where there is the greatest divide.
Cooperation, though, does not satisfy bitter partisans on both sides of the aisle. In fact, we repeatedly see good policy killed and bad policy passed just so one party or the other can claim some victory or protect a special interest. Sadly, that which might work to grab a headline or satisfy a lobbyist could be contrary to what is best for those we are supposed to serve.
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. It is no surprise to see the number of those registering as “Independent” growing faster than ever because it is a way to protest. That is true even in our area.
For example, more than 17 percent of the registered voters I represent in the 25- to 34-year old age group are registered as Independent. In fact, voters over the age of 65 is 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 I serve as your senator, my job is to fight to make the future brighter for us all – and that is my enduring pledge to those I serve.
Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.