, Muskogee, OK


July 9, 2010

State budget process avoids accountability

I have just returned from the annual “We the People: Citizen and the Constitution” national coordinator’s conference in Washington D.C. This is the program that I used in teaching U.S. Government in our public schools. As District 15 State Representative, I have continued to work with this national program which supplies elementary, middle, and high school classes with free class sets of text books.

It also provides an opportunity for these classes to participate in Simulated Congressional Hearings. At the high school level these hearings can be competitive at the district, state, and national levels. It is always interesting to attend this conference and compare Oklahoma’s focus on government issues to those of schools in the other 50 states.

It was during this conference that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the 2nd Amendment case of McDonald v Chicago. They ruled that Chicago’s ordinance forbidding the possession of handguns within its city limits was a violation of the 2nd Amendment provision that citizens have the right to keep and bear arms.

The interpretations of this were very interesting with Oklahoma expressing strong support for this decision, which was only the second time that the Second Amendment was identified as one of the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution and became known as the Bill of Rights. Previously these rights only applied to the federal government. With the passage of the 14th Amendment, these rights became “incorporated” to apply to all state laws. This decision by the Court then confirms that states must comply with the U.S. Constitution and its Amendments. While this appears to be good at first glance, it has another side to be considered. Specifically, if that right is incorporated by the federal government, will the Courts rule that the states must therefore comply with the interpretations of the Supreme Court even when they place certain restrictions on our rights as citizens of Oklahoma? Stay tuned — I’m sure this will be tested in the near future.

One other topic that I would like to have you consider is the state budget process, given that as of July 1 all state agencies entered a new fiscal year.

As I have alerted you not long ago, the legislative leaders avoided accountability and transparency in the budget process by not identifying specific line items in the budget.

The legislative leaders rationalized this decision by stating that they did not want to be seen as micro-managing the agencies, which is interesting in light of the fact that these agencies were experiencing a “real” revenue shortfall of about 9-10 percent. I wonder why these same leaders did not mind micro-managing the agencies’ spending when there was an increase in revenue. This procedure reminds me of Pontius Pilate’s attempt to wash his hands of any responsibility of Christ’s crucifixion. That did not pass the “smell test” then nor does it today.

On the actual impact of the budget for 2011-12, it appears that currently our state revenue is increasing by about roughly 6 percent. With that in mind, word is that come this next session in February there will be supplemental funding requests by agencies followed by increased budgets for 2012.

 My recommendation is that we not fall for that line of thinking, and here is why: this year’s budget was supplemented by $540 million in federal stimulus funds and $223.5 million from the Rainy Day Constitutional Fund. Both of these are non-renewable sources for the 2012 budget. We must calculate the 9 percent losses in revenue for agencies in 2011 plus the loss of stimulus funds and the Rainy Day Fund that made up almost 10 percent of the 2011 budget. This totals a 19 percent loss for 2012. If our economy continues to improve by 6 percent then the budget shortfall for 2012 would be 19 percent less than our base line of 2010. In the past I have been accused of looking at things through rose-colored glasses, but I believe it is time to be realistic and accountable to the citizens of Oklahoma by telling it like it really is. If that means the loss of services, then the state’s leaders must accept responsibility for this and either change their policy of shrinking government services or step down from their role as leaders. This would be true accountability.

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