Monday, May 31, 2010

The Last Days of Session

This last week brought about the end of the 2010 legislative session. I must say that this was probably the most intense week of legislative proceedings that I have observed in my four years of legislative service. Much happened in this last week and I could write an entire series of articles about just the happenings of this one week.

Legislators worked late into the night each night trying to meet the Constitutional deadline of adjourning at 5 p.m. on Friday and succeeded with just 5 minutes to spare.

The process came to a standstill on Friday when the House considered a component of the budget agreement to enact a 16 million dollar fee increase. The vote was held open for about an hour when several legislators in an apparent attempt to leverage a favor from legislative leadership joined with those of us who were opposed to the fee increase and voted against the proposal. As you might expect, this resulted in pressure being placed on those legislators who were voting against the fee increase because it was a bad policy proposal. The possibility of a special legislative session was brought up if the fee increase was not approved.

I think it is contemptible that legislators would trade their votes for favors and believe that the public would express significant outrage if they realized that legislators were engaging in these petty politics.

And, the situation risked placing the legislators who were already against the fee increase in a very uncomfortable position as they did want to support a fee increase but neither did they want to de-rail the budget agreement and force a special session.

Fortunately, I escaped much of this pressure. During my time in the legislature I have maintained a policy of voting against debt, fee and tax increases, pork earmarks and the creation of new government bureaucracies. Being known as a legislator whose is going to stand by these four policies and who is not open to trading votes allows me to avoid being susceptible to arm-twisting. Other legislators can predict my voting habit and don't have to worry about what they must give up in order to get my support. My vote will be based on the quality of the proposed policy. This has allowed me to build a relationship with other legislators which is built on trust and consistency and not on a temporary political alliance.

Eventually a few legislators changed their votes and the fee increase was approved on a 52-48 vote.

However, I do believe that our opposition to the fee and tax increases sent a strong message. In the future, the state budget should be balanced by eliminating inappropriate and inefficient functions of state government and not by legislating fees and taxes which will simply add to the cost of living that the citizens are forced to pay.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Policies for Voting on the Budget

Legislative leadership recently completed negotiations with the Governor regarding the approval of a budget agreement for the state's next fiscal year.

As always, the agreement represents negotiated positions by all involved parties and as such does not necessarily represent the stand of a single group. Many times this puts House appropriations officials in the position of having to secure support for provisions of the budget with which they do not agree. I understand this dilemma. However, I have never felt that as members of the House we should vote for bad policy simply because the Governor or the Senate is asking us to do it. Likewise, those groups should not support bad policy because members of the House have negotiated for it.

As the various bills which constitute this agreement are presented to the House, there are a number of criteria I will use to govern how I vote on the proposal.

As usual, I will be analyzing bills for earmarks. As I have written in the past, I believe legislative earmarks are extremely inappropriate because they violate the important principle of separation of powers between the three branches of government and risk opening the door to "good old boy" politics and corruption. Government expenditures should be allotted according to objective need-based criteria. They should never be made based on politics.

I will not support components of the agreement that include fee or tax increases. I believe the worst thing that government can do during an economic downturn is to increase the cost of government services. Oklahoma fee-based government entities take nearly a billion dollars out of the state's economy each year, and increasing the amount of this taxation is very bad policy. This does not include the amount of money taken by government entities that are not entirely fee-based, but receive funding from a combination of fees and appropriations.

Finally, I will oppose the issuance of new debt. In addition to millions of dollars in bonded indebtedness, Oklahoma state government is dealing with billions of dollars in underfunded long-term liabilities. This debt is tying up state resources for many years into the future and serves to make it difficult to truly reform Oklahoma's antiquated tax code. I believe that our state and nation will face a day of reckoning for the reckless policies of assuming so much debt; we must do whatever we can to stop policy leaders from incurring additional indebtedness.

These are the principles I will apply when voting on the state's 2011 budget.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Update on Modernization Initiatives

During the weeks preceding this year's session, I wrote a series of articles in which I explained a proposed schedule of government modernization items designed to cut wasteful government spending and provide more transparency to the way the government spends your money. When I wrote the original articles, I solicited the help of House District 31 constituents in providing ideas and suggestions. I have appreciated this input. Much of this modernization effort has been supported by House leadership and with their help, legislation has advanced through most of the legislative process.

It has been my goal to find those practices which are clearly the most wasteful and difficult for even the most aggressive status quo politicians to defend. I believe this is the perfect opportunity to reduce wasteful spending practices because legislators are feeling the impact of receiving calls from their constituents who are worried about spending cuts due to recent state government revenue shortfalls. It is hard for legislators to vote against cutting out extremely wasteful spending while funding the various programs important to their constituents.

Sometimes there is a double impact to these proposals. Not only do they save taxpayer dollars by reducing wasteful spending, modernization proposals also make Oklahoma a more business-friendly state. One of these initiatives is House Bill 2332 which included a provision to make it easier for business to secure work from the state. As part of reforming Oklahoma's purchasing laws, it was evident that it was becoming difficult for publicly traded companies to do business with the state because they could not justify entering into a state required non-standard liability contract. One major technology vendor explained that fewer entities were willing to do business with state government and as a result, taxpayers may have less opportunity for choice and subsequently be forced to pay higher prices. HB 2332 makes it possible for these companies to utilize standardized liability contracts.

Many of the modernization proposals, including HB 2332, have either been signed into law or are successfully approaching the end of the legislative process. Other initiatives, such as the Gov 2.0 transparency proposal and the expansion of the Open Books web site, are nearing the end of the legislative approval process. While there have been some significant challenges in securing approval, most of the modernization ideas have survived to this point in the session. As we are nearing the final deadlines, I look forward to being able to provide a comprehensive report in which I will detail these changes and their impact on state government.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Effects of the Upcoming Redistricting Process

One of the tasks I undertake this time of year is that of updating my list of House District 31 constituents. The yearly updating provides me with several important insights. This process allows me to review the growth in the District. House District 31 (North Oklahoma county and Logan County) contains some of the fastest growing areas in the state. You may recall that I have written about this explosive growth and the challenges faced by local officials in maintaining the infrastructure which services this growth.

Over the past years I have had as a primary focus the task of building strong lines of communication between myself and the House District 31 constituency. Usually this takes the form of e-mail communication and I have enjoyed using this technology to provide a level of service which I do not believe would have been possible just a few years ago. These contacts have resulted in the building of several hundred friendships which I would not have had the opportunity to make had it not been for this communication. Because the directory provides a documentation of these relationships, it is somewhat a sad task to realize that this will be the last year my list will contain all of these constituents.

Next year at this time I will very likely be observing a very significant change in the makeup of the district. In about a year, it is expected that the House and Senate will be completing the task of redistricting. Because the north Oklahoma County and Logan County area has experienced such an enormous amount of growth, it will be necessary for House District 31 to become much smaller in the number of constituents. Many of those I represent today will no longer be in the district.

There are, however, a number of positive implications brought about by the update of census data and the redistricting process. Here are two of them:

The area will be represented by multiple Representatives and at some point in the next few years, it is possible that the area could have more than one resident state Representative or Senator for the first time in many years. This means that the area will have a stronger voice in state government.

Because much of the growth in the district has occurred in unincorporated areas, I believe that the growth has been under reported in census estimates. This could be the first time that the new growth is completely reflected in government population counts which could have significant implications on issues such as the manner in which state government funds road maintenance accounts of area County Commissioners. State road funding may finally reflect the reality that significant stresses are being placed on the infrastructure.

While I will certainly miss representing some of those I have worked for over the past few years, I do look forward to working with additional local Representatives and Senators to represent the North Oklahoma and Logan County area.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Murphey Receives Conservative Lawmaker of the Year Award

State Representative Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) has been awarded the designation of Outstanding Conservative State Representative of the Year by the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee (OCPAC).

Murphey was presented with the award April 30 during the organization's awards banquet. OCPAC, one of Oklahoma's largest grassroots conservative organizations, awards the distinction each year to one state Representative and one state Senator. They voted to award Murphey with the designation after he received a rating of 100% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.

Each year since 1979, the Index has graded Oklahoma legislators so constituents can gauge how conservative or liberal their legislator votes. Murphey was graded on ten issues, including his votes against issuing more government debt and against liberalizing Oklahoma's unemployment benefits to accept federal stimulus money. Murphey was given points for his votes for declaring English to be Oklahoma's official language and for overturning a Gubernatorial veto on a key right-to-life issue.

Murphey says that his polices of voting against issuing new government debt, tax and fee increases and the creation of new government bureaucracies have aided his effort to maintain a conservative voting record. Murphey has also never lost points for missing votes and has maintained a 99% record of being present to vote on legislation.

The award is Murphey's second by a conservative grassroots organization for his work during the 2009 legislative year. Murphey was previously awarded with the designation 2009 Legislation of the year by the group Oklahomans for Responsible Government (OFRG). OFRG presented the award to Murphey based on his work in winning approval for Senate Joint Resolution 12 which puts to a vote of the people whether statewide elected officials should be limited to just two terms in office, and Senate Bill 800 to reform the initiative petition process and require legal challenges to the wording of citizen initiatives to happen before signatures are collected.

"I ran on a platform of representing conservative values when I campaigned for office. I believe this designation shows that I am keeping my word," Murphey said.

Murphey remains the only Oklahoma legislator to maintain a lifetime score of 100% on the Conservative Index, having scored 100% in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Impact of the New Federal Health Care Proposal

Last week the Oklahoma House approved House Joint Resolution 1054 which is the legislative initiative that would codify an Oklahoma law to state that Oklahomans will not be forced to purchase health care and allows Oklahoma's legislative leaders to file suite against the federal law.

I have served as a co-sponsor of the legislation and as a member of the conference committee which approved the proposal. This is an issue which I have included on my 2010 constituent survey (available online at and which currently has the support of approximately 84% of respondents.

The importance of opposing the federal health care initiative has become more and more obvious as the details of the federal law continue to be exposed. The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) recently released the following timeline. Following are just a few of the new provisions:

Because of the health care bill, employers will be required in 2011 to start reporting to the federal government the number of employee benefits they provide.

In 2012, businesses will have to start sending in form 1099s for every business-to-business transaction of $600 or more, which presents a huge paperwork burden for small business. No doubt this cost will be factored into the price of goods and services which we all pay.

In 2013, Medicare payroll tax on wages and self-employment income in excess of $200,000 will increase to 2.35 percent. This will be the first time that funds designated for Medicare will be diverted elsewhere and start a dangerous precedent for using a payroll tax as a revenue raiser.

In 2014, an annual fee will be levied on health insurance companies which will be passed on to small business consumers, but will not apply to big business and labor union self-insured plans. The fee starts at 8 billion dollars in 2014 and by 2019 will increase to 14.3 billion dollars.

Also starting in 2014, penalties will start being assessed to individuals who do not purchase health insurance. By 2016, these penalties will reach a level of 2.5% of each person's income and likely increase from that time forward. Certain businesses will also start to be penalized thousands of dollars if they do not offer health coverage. This cost is very likely to be passed on to consumers.

In 2018, the government will start charging a 40 percent tax on health plans which cost more than $10,200 per year (subject to certain changing conditions). This tax will greatly discourage businesses from offering higher-end health plans to their employees.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of the mandates which will be forced on Oklahoma businesses if the federal government is successful in implementing their health care plan. I believe these efforts will destroy many jobs and it is imperative that we do what we can to prevent the plan from taking effect.