Sunday, March 27, 2011

Making Progress

Last week presented Oklahoma lawmakers with the second major legislative deadline of this year’s legislative session.

It is at this point that I can start to get a feeling for how well the efforts to reduce the size of government are proceeding. I believe this year’s state government modernization agenda is much more aggressive then ever before with several major multi-million dollar cost saving efforts still proceeding through the legislative system.

This progress is in no small part due to the commitment of legislative leadership and the strong effort by Governor Mary Fallin.

I knew that a special emphasis would be placed on government reform this year when I noticed that Governor Fallin placed a large “Government Modernization” heading and a series of money-saving proposals at the very start of her proposed state budget narrative. I cannot ever recall a time when proposed budgets even contained a narrative titled “Government Modernization”.

Since that time, Governor Fallin’s policy team has been very engaged in helping to develop and advocate for aggressive systematic reforms.

In the past, legislators spent large amounts of time working on reforms only to have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best when that proposal was sent to the Governor's office. Many times the Governor supported reform legislation but at other times legislation which would have made a substantial effort towards reforming and reducing the size of state government was vetoed. We just never knew for sure what would happen once our proposals were sent downstairs to the Governor's office.

Now, however, not only is the new Governor involved in helping propose and shape reform policy, she is also providing aggressive advocacy for the proposals -- and is not afraid to write editorials or issue press releases that bring attention to our efforts to save money and streamline state government.

As a result, legislative efforts are still alive which create a one-stop shop for business owners to secure their licenses and permits, require an unprecedented level of transparency for government spend initiatives, and consolidate ten state government agencies which will result in millions of dollars of savings.

Another still viable proposal would establish a state employee health insurance plan containing an emphasis on health savings accounts designed to contain health insurance costs to state agencies, and empower state employees with control over their health care spending. Proposals to eliminate inefficient state agency information technology processes have been repeatedly highlighted by the Governor as her budget seeks to take advantage of 140 million dollars of savings from more efficient technology process in state government.

Also still being considered are multiple proposals which would consolidate inefficient state agency financial services operations.

Keeping this large number of proposals moving forward throughout the session has been due to the commitment from the Governor and House and Senate legislative leaders. As the Chair of the House Government Modernization Committee, it has been a huge honor for me to observe this commitment up close and as a taxpayer, I have a tremendous appreciation for the commitment of these individuals to save some of the millions of taxpayer dollars which are wasted each year due to these inefficiencies.

Monday, March 21, 2011

HD 31 Constituent Survey Update

During the upcoming weeks I will be issuing a survey to House District 31 constituents. The survey serves as a forum for those who live in the district to offer their input about some of the more high-profile issues being considered during the current legislative session. I have benefited from this input in the past and look forward to the feedback from this year’s survey.

I will distribute a link to a web-based version of the survey in a future article. Those who do not have web access should contact my office at 557-7350 to request a mailed copy.

Following is a list of the bills from last year’s survey and an update regarding the disposition of each proposal.

House Bill 2310 was designed to consolidate state administrative service offerings after a study demonstrated that Oklahoma state government employs a much larger number of employees in its agency level financial services divisions than comparable peer groups. The bill was approved by the Legislature but vetoed by the Governor. I have since re-introduced this proposal and it has already been approved by the House. 314 out of 347 House District 31 survey respondents favored this proposal.

In its original form, HJR 1002 would have allowed voters to drop the cap from 5% to 2% on the amount that property tax could be increased each year. The legislation was not approved. A similar proposal is advancing through the legislative process this year. 326 out of 347 respondents favored passage of the proposal.

HJR 1054 gave voters the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution allowing citizens to opt out of provisions of the federal health care mandate. The bill was approved by both the Legislature and the voters. Because of this constitutional amendment, Attorney General Scott Pruitt was able to file a unique legal action against the federal government which is independent of the Florida legal action. 302 out of 347 House District 31 survey respondents favored the proposal.

HR 1065 requested a trial court to hold hearings to consider the impeachment of a Pittsburg County Judge. It was not approved. 258 respondents favored the proposal.

SB 1685 would have exempted from federal regulation firearms manufactured in Oklahoma. It was approved by the Legislature but vetoed by the Governor. 264 survey respondents favored the proposal.

I served as the House author of SB 1759 which mandated that citizens have access to a database of federal stimulus spending in Oklahoma. The bill was approved and signed by the Governor. Visit to access the stimulus transparency website. 332 of the 347 respondents favored the proposal.

Last year’s survey also asked respondents for their position on several issue questions. 85 percent of survey respondents stated they would prefer to see a smaller state government with fewer services.

81 percent of survey takers stated they would support a 10% reduction in the number of state government employment positions.

86 percent of participants want to opt out of the federal health care plan, with 79 percent favoring an opt out even if it meant federal funds were withheld from the state.

Survey takers were divided on how to best address the I-35 off-ramp traffic issues in south Logan County and north Oklahoma County with a slight majority favoring a new off-ramp at Sorghum Mill Road.

I certainly appreciate your input. Please do not hesitate to send your suggestions for this year’s survey to

Friday, March 18, 2011

State Rep. Calls for Legislative Pay Decrease, Makes Donation To Pro-Life Organization

GUTHRIE - State Rep. Jason Murphey continued his mid-March tradition of presenting a yearly donation of $8,241.92 from his legislative salary to officials from Crossroads, An Open Door For Life Choices, Inc., located in Guthrie. Crossroads provides faith-based, pro-life counseling and support services to expectant mothers.

Murphey said that Oklahoma legislators are some of the highest paid part-time legislators in the nation, making more than double the regional average. He is using the donation to demonstrate that legislators in Oklahoma should not be paid so much more than other legislators in the region and to illustrate the importance of pro-life services such as Crossroads.

“In order to reform government, we must cut out wasteful state government spending. I hope most would agree that it is not a good principle to pay legislators more than double the regional average,” said Murphey, R-Guthrie.

Crossroads is a Christian-based non-profit organization focused on supporting the values of the sanctity of human life, pre-marital abstinence, and marital fidelity.

The services provided included limited pregnancy related medical services, options education, client advocacy, support for prenatal care, parenting education, post-abortion peer counseling, and abstinence education.

Crossroads offers abortion-vulnerable women a scan to confirm viable pregnancies. Statistics show that 89 percent of abortion-minded women choose life for their unborn babies after seeing them through ultrasound and receiving truthful information about their options.

The amount donated reflects the difference in legislative pay and the per capita pay in Oklahoma at the time Murphey was elected. During his 2006 campaign for office, Murphey pledged to continue making the yearly pledge until legislative salaries are adjusted. Murphey sponsors legislation to accomplish this goal during each term of the Legislature.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Better Access to Legislative Documents

There have been significant advances this year in the amount of transparency afforded to Oklahoma citizens through the Legislature’s web presence.

In the past, keeping track of legislation online was difficult because users of the Oklahoma House of Representatives website were required to navigate to several different web pages, depending on the status of the bills they were attempting to monitor.

You can only imagine how frustrating it was for the visitor to decipher between the introduced, committee substitute, amended, enrolled, conference committee substitute and engrossed versions of the same bill and then visit separate pages to read each of those versions.

Also, it was not pleasant for legislators who might have media reports of and advocacy calls for or against legislation that had already addressed the concern simply because someone was looking at the wrong version of the bill.

Commencing with the most recent session of the Legislature, the web portals for the House and Senate have been updated to provide access to a one-stop overview of each piece of legislation. Not only can visitors review the most recent version of a bill or resolution online, they can also now access the document summarizing the bill, the complete timeline of legislative action on a bill, previous versions and a breakdown of legislative votes on any given bill.

I have found myself using the public web portal just as often, if not more than, the internal legislative site. I think it is a very good sign when it is as convenient for legislators to use the resources provided to the public than to use the internal tools.

The modernization of the legislative process and easy access to web-based documents is also transforming the way legislators conduct business. Most legislators are no longer dependant on reviewing stacks of paper bills. Even the use of computers for this purpose is now in decline. In fact, this is the first year when I can easily work from the floor of the House using just my smart phone without the need to use a computer at all. Several legislators are now using iPads as the primary method to follow legislation during House Floor action.

I would encourage everyone to take a few minutes to visit the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ web site. By clicking on the “legislation” link and the “basic bill search” sublink, you will be able to test the functionality which I have described in this article.

I suggest that you enter HB 2156 (using the following format: HB2156, with no spaces) as a possible bill to review. This is legislation I will present to the House this week. The bill will continue the progression of internal legislative reforms by allowing the House, Senate, Governor and Secretary of State to participate in an electronic-based chain of custody for legislative documentation. It would allow legislation transmitted between these four entities to also occur by electronic mechanism without the need for paper. This should mean that a bill can be written, amended, voted on, sent to the opposite legislative House, voted on again, sent to the Governor and filed with the Secretary of State without ever being placed on paper.

These process efficiencies can be traced back to 2007 when House Speaker Lance Cargill placed an emphasis on modernizing internal House processes with a strong focus on reducing paper dependency. Since that time the House has saved thousands of dollars because of these reforms and I enjoy the opportunity to participate in the expansion of these money-saving efforts.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cost-Cutting Measure Approved by House

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma House of Representatives has approved legislation designed to transform inefficient state agency financial services systems.
House Bill 2107, by state Rep. Jason Murphey, (R-Guthrie), state Rep. Josh Cockroft, (R-Tecumseh) and state Sen. Anthony Sykes (R-Moore), was proposed following a report by the Hackett Group, which demonstrated massive inefficiencies in the way state agencies conducts financial services.
The report compared Oklahoma agencies’ financial services processes to that of other public and private sector peer organizations of like complexity. The report demonstrated the inefficiencies by stating that it costs Oklahoma taxpayers $20.05 to process one accounts payable invoice while comparable peer groups pay $3.58 for each similar service.
“It is incredible and unacceptable that Oklahoma taxpayers are paying nearly six times the cost of what comparable groups are spending for that same process,” Murphey declared. “This legislation is designed to fix that!”
The study also stated that Oklahoma state government has a significantly higher number of full time employees employed to conduct these operations than peer organizations. Oklahoma processes 2,039 accounts payable occurrences for each employee while peer groups are able to account for 15,693 of these same processes with each employee.
“The legislation will require the most inefficient agencies to enter into a shared service agreement to modernize their financial services,” Sykes explained. “The proposal also incentivizes state agencies that become efficient to avoid the necessity of a shared services arrangement and allows them to preserve autonomy of operation.”
A 2010 version of the legislation was passed by the legislature but vetoed by the then-Governor Brad Henry.
The House approved House Bill 1207 by a vote of 91-3. The legislation now heads to the Senate for additional consideration.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

2011 Property Tax Reform Proposals

Without a doubt, the issue about which I receive the most passionate constituent feedback is the demand for property tax reform.

We have now reached the first deadline in the legislative session and I am happy to report that there are a series of property tax reforms proposals which have been approved in committee and are still viable for legislative approval during this session.

Last week, I was honored to present House Bill 1293 to the House Revenue and Tax Committee on behalf of the bill’s author State Representative David Derby who could not be present at the hearing.

House Bill 1293 significantly increases the income eligibility ceiling for those who can claim double-homestead exemption and indexes the income ceiling to the rate of inflation. The legislation also increases the upper income eligibility limit for those who are eligible to claim part of their property tax as a refund on their state income tax and indexes that limit to the rate of inflation.

I was excited to have the opportunity to present the bill before the Rev and Tax committee because I had just received a call from a constituent who will be experiencing a property tax increase because her income went up slightly making her ineligible for the double-homestead exemption. This income limit should have been indexed to inflation in the first place as the limit is prohibitive even to those on a small fixed income who can lose the exemption with just a minor cost of living increase that keeps up with inflation.

House Bill 1293 was approved by a unanimous vote of the Revenue and Taxation committee. Representative Derby also won approval for House Bill 1293 from the Appropriations and Budget Committee and it now goes to the House floor for consideration by the entire House of Representatives.

Two other property tax reform proposals, House Joint Resolution 1001 and House Joint Resolution 1003 have won approval from the House Rules Committee and are also now ready to be heard by the House.

House Joint Resolution 1001 would allow the people of Oklahoma to vote on changing the state Constitution to remove the income limits on the ability of those over the age of 65 to freeze their property taxes at their current levels. The proposal is designed to aid those who are on a fixed income and are at risk of being priced out of the houses which they have spent much of their lifetime working to pay off. This is an all to common dilemma faces by seniors who are already trying to cope with the increase in health care costs and inflation.

An especially unfair aspect of the current senior freeze limit is that fact it applies to gross and not net income. This punishes small businessmen and farmers who must count gross income which they may not have realized a very large profit margin on. For instance, a farmer who sells cattle would have to count the entire sell price of the cattle even if he took a loss on the sale.

House Joint Resolution 1002 is by far the most important property tax reform proposal of the three mentioned in this article. This resolution purports to ask the people of Oklahoma to change the state Constitution to limit the increase of billable property taxes to no more than 3% each year or the rate of inflation whichever is less. The means that even if the County Assessor increases the assessment of a property beyond 3% each year that not more than a 3% increase or the rate of inflation can be charged to the home owner.

In order to stay alive, all of these proposals will need to be approved by the House by the next legislative deadline which will occur in two weeks time.