Cash reserves held by state governments are near the highest levels seen since 2008.
According to February’s certification, Oklahoma is on pace to have $660.8 million in its Rainy Day Fund by July, a record. Across the country, the National Association of State Budget Officers reports that state rainy day funds now equal 9 percent of general fund tax revenue. The policy question is whether to spend any of that money.
Gov. Mary Fallin has been reluctant to tap Rainy Day funds, saying we should “preserve that as much as possible.” Her views are echoed by governors in Michigan and Tennessee who want to add money to state savings, not spend it. In most states, special-interests groups argue the funds should be depleted to restore spending cuts made during the recession.
Policymakers must carefully weigh the merits of achieving short-term gains at the potential expense of long-term financial planning.
Oklahoma often gets dinged in government transparency evaluations, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that it performed well in a recent ranking.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s “Following the Money 2013” report, which rates states on online access to government spending information, has given Oklahoma an A-minus in financial transparency. That’s a major improvement from the C-plus grade received last year.
Oklahoma was one of only seven “Leading States” getting an A. And Oklahoma achieved that distinction in a cost-conscious way. To establish online access, Oklahoma had start-up expenses of just $8,600, using existing staff, and annual operating costs of just $3,600. In comparison, another state listed start-up costs of $2.2 million and annual expenses of $400,000.
Secretary of Finance and Revenue Preston L. Doerflinger said he was pleased his office’s efforts have left Oklahoma “among the nation’s leaders.” Oklahoma voters should feel the same.
U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, has gone from being an unknown candidate in a crowded primary a few years ago to a national figure.
Evidence of his growing influence can be seen in a recent profile published in Roll Call, a newspaper dedicated to congressional coverage. The article notes Lankford’s role as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee has made him a crucial link between House leadership and rank-and-file members.
That will give Lankford — and therefore, Oklahoma — considerable influence over future debates on immigration, transportation, and education.
Lankford’s demeanor is credited with building good relations in Congress while remaining true to conservative philosophy. “I want us to be known more for what we represent and what we stand for than the volume with which we say it,” Lankford said.
Oklahomans can be proud to have a congressman who proves influence is not incompatible with humility and thoughtfulness.
Workers’ compensation reform is often viewed as an issue important to a sliver of Oklahoma’s business community, but a source of indifference for most citizens. A new poll suggests that this may no longer be the case.
A SoonerPoll.com survey of likely Oklahoma voters showed 72.5 percent felt changes should be made to the current workers’ compensation system with two-thirds believing the current system hurts Oklahoma businesses. Only 8.7 percent disagreed with a potential change to an administrative-based system.
An outright majority of Democrats surveyed agreed that shifting to an administrative system could be beneficial.
Because the poll was commissioned by the State Chamber Research Foundation, some will question its findings. But it’s not unreasonable to think most Oklahomans, having lived their entire lives hearing of problems with the current work comp system, have concluded it’s time to junk it. Lawmakers should take note.
For the first time in decades, the Oklahoma Senate met behind closed doors in executive session. A spokesman claimed the topic Monday was “decorum and Senate tradition.” Legislators say they were encouraged to reread the chamber’s rules and code of conduct.
Supposedly, this admonition was prompted because Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, referred to Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, as “Matlock” during floor activity. Another lawmaker referred to a colleague by first name rather than by his title of senator.
If the reports are accurate, it hardly seems worthy of a high-profile secret meeting. And given that Matlock reportedly argued 173 cases over nine TV seasons and lost only two (including one successfully retried), is that really an insult?
Decorum matters, but legislators should be more mindful of these titles — “boss” and “employee.” Oklahoma voters are the former; legislators are the latter. Senators should keep that in mind before telling their bosses a meeting is “none of your business.”
The Oklahoma Policy Institute, which advocates for government programs and increased taxpayer funding, includes a lot of useful data and detailed analysis in its communications outreach. This doesn’t, however, mean that OK Policy always has the right message.
Its officials argue that Medicaid expansion is worthwhile because they find the current system relatively inexpensive. But Oklahoma’s Medicaid program currently covers low-income children and pregnant women, seniors and persons with disabilities. The proposed expansion would add about 180,000 people, potentially including many with serious, long-term health problems. You can’t extrapolate the cost of covering a demographically broader (and potentially sicker) population by examining the costs of covering a dissimilar and narrowly tailored group.
Furthermore, in an issue briefing, OK Policy notes that Medicaid costs “have risen at a more modest pace than total health expenditures or premiums for employer-sponsored coverage” and that per capita costs for Medicaid patients “are significantly below” those for patients covered by private insurance.
But a significant reason for the difference in growth rates is that private insurance absorbs cost-shifting created by Medicaid. The market rate paid by private insurers is often up to 140 percent of Medicare rates, which means Medicare rates are unrealistically low. And Medicaid rates are even lower. In Oklahoma, OK Policy notes, Medicaid rates are 96.5 percent of Medicare rates. This points to significant cost-shifting to those with private insurance or paying out of pocket.
Trumpeting the fact that Medicaid’s costs are rising more slowly than private insurance is like bragging that your electric bill is lower when you’ve got an extension cord plugged into your neighbor’s outlet.
U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an Oklahoma native few Oklahomans want to claim, leaked thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. He’s now among 259 nominees for a Nobel Prize, as is Malala Yousufzai, a 15-year old Pakistani girl nearly killed by the Taliban.
These nominations show an astounding level of moral equivalence.
Yousufzai was shot in the head because she was attending school, which the Taliban consider heinous and worthy of a death sentence. In comparison, Manning put the lives of his fellow soldiers at risk, as well as individuals in nations like Afghanistan who cooperated with U.S. forces. He now faces charges of aiding the enemy and espionage.
Yousufzai risked her life to stand up to violent oppressors; Manning’s actions put others’ lives in danger while aiding the cause of oppressors. Yousufzai is a worthy nominee, but Manning’s nomination (the second in two years) further diminishes the Nobel Prize.
Talk about clearing a low hurdle.
Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer route, which runs from Oklahoma City to Forth Worth, Texas, is considered one of Amtrak’s success stories because it loses only $43 per rider. In the private sector, that’s a path to bankruptcy. In government, that’s an achievement.
A report by The Brookings Institution found that only four Amtrak routes nationwide manage to generate enough revenue to cover costs and most lose far more than the Heartland Flyer.
Oklahoma is one of 15 states that contribute to local Amtrak routes. The state will take on a larger role after Oct. 1 when states will be required to provide greater financial support for short routes. The only consolation for Oklahomans may be that this bad deal could have been much worse.
Democrats are issuing weekly press releases criticizing the State Rights Committee, which Oklahoma House leaders created to push back against perceived federal overreach.
Democrats are certainly right to criticize activity they see as ridiculous, although their releases are light on detail, other than claiming Oklahoma Republicans are somehow anti-gun. (Does that claim even pass the laugh test?) Mostly, the releases tout the Democrats’ supposed superior knowledge and love of the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions.
Yet a quote attributed to Rep. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, said Republicans “refuse to accept the law of the land after our three branches of federal government and the Supreme Court have spoken.”
Last time we checked, the U.S. Supreme Court is part of the three branches of government (judicial) — not a fourth. If Democrats want to portray themselves as constitutional experts, they should avoid mistakes that would get them bounced in a high school civics class.
As chairman of the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Brian Crain refused to hear a bill allowing local control of smoking regulations. Crain, R-Tulsa, has argued lawmakers should either debate a comprehensive statewide ban on smoking or nothing, decrying a piecemeal approach.
Yet he then granted a hearing to a bill to legalize the “medical” use of marijuana. That measure failed, with Crain among the opponents.
Crain said he allowed the vote because of the persistence of the bill’s author, Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City.
But advocates of local control of smoking regulations have been pushing the issue for years; supporters include everyone from the governor to health officials to local mayors. In comparison, Johnson is a legislative gadfly. It’s disturbing that a committee chair appears more receptive to the fringes than to than state leaders and the broad Oklahoma electorate.