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05 Apr
0

RELEASE: By State Rep. David Perryman GOP Empties Out State’s ‘Rainy Day’ Fund

GOP Empties Out State’s ‘Rainy Day’ Fund, Plans to Incur More Debt to Balance Budget

By State Rep. David Perryman

OKLAHOMA CITY (5 April 2017) — Reeling from severe losses inflicted at Pearl Harbor and a series of Japanese military victories in early 1942, the United States Navy during World War II used a strategy of calculated deception to make up for being outnumbered by Japanese vessels across the Pacific. Intrinsic in that strategy was an attempt to confuse the enemy about the number of battle-ready ships that America really had.

The plan was successful, and if the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 provided the first hint that the superiority of the Japanese naval forces was beginning to crack, the Battle of Midway a month later made that fact apparent to all.

Loosely based on that strategy and those two battles was the 1944 movie, “A Wing and a Prayer,” which chronicled the dangers, mishaps and heroism of the crew and the naval pilots serving aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in the desperate early days of World War II in the Pacific theater.

Today “a wing and a prayer” is a phrase used to describe a difficult situation, relying on meager resources and luck to get out of it. Sort of like the current Oklahoma current budget crisis.

Because of the foresight of our Oklahoma forefathers, we have as a safety net a Constitutional Reserve Fund commonly referred to as our “Rainy Day Fund.” The fund was created to be a lockbox as described in Article X, Section 23, of the Oklahoma Constitution, the same section that mandates that Oklahoma government must never spend more money than it has. In addition to the balanced budget requirements, Section 23 requires that in any year of excess revenues, before anything else is done with the surplus there shall be a deposit into the Rainy Day Fund so that the Rainy Day Fund will contain up to 15% of the General Fund certification of the previous year. When deposits equal that amount, the fund is locked and the Constitution lists only four ways that the funds may be used.

First, a limited amount may be appropriated by the Legislature if there is an anticipation that the upcoming year will not produce as much revenue as the previous year. Second, a limited amount may be appropriated by the Legislature if the current year’s revenue has not equaled anticipated revenues. Third, a limited amount may be used in the event of an emergency if the Governor and a supermajority of both houses of the Legislature agree. Fourth, if there is at least $80 million in the fund and the Governor and the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate agree, up to $10 million may be used as an incentive to retain at-risk manufacturing jobs.

It is important to note that the Constitution requires that each option requires legislative action. Incredibly, over the past few months, somewhere between $240 million and $360 million has been removed from the rainy day fund by Governor Fallin’s appointed director of Office of Management and Enterprise Services, leaving a balance of ZERO in that fund. Of course the Speaker and the Pro Tempore say they were not aware of the removal of the funds.

Even more incredible is the fact that the chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee requested last week that a “special appropriation” of $4 million be made to the Department of Human Services from the Rainy Day Fund when it had a ZERO balance.

Section 23 of Article X of the Oklahoma Constitution apparently means nothing to those running state government. Not only do they empty the Rainy Day Fund without telling anyone, rumor is that for the second straight year they want to use another $200 million loan – i.e., sell another $200 million in bonds – to balance the state budget.

The chair of the Senate Appropriations and Budget Committee said last week that she hoped the money would be repaid to the Rainy Day Fund, otherwise, “we would be worse off than we are.” A “Wing and a Prayer” sounds very appropriate under the circumstances.

(Representative Perryman is a Democrat from Chickasha.)

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

05 Apr
0

RELEASE Perez: Trump puts retirement savings in the hands of Wall Street

Perez: Trump puts retirement savings in the hands of Wall Street

WASHINGTON – DNC Chair Tom Perez released a statement responding to the Trump Administration delaying implementation of the fiduciary rule:

“When Donald Trump stood up in front of a bunch of Wall Street CEOs this morning and told them he was ‘going to be doing things that are very good’ for them, he conveniently forgot to tell seniors and Americans saving for retirement that meant he planned to screw them over on the very same day.

“When I served as Labor Secretary, our goal was to help American workers, and that’s why we gave retirees and investors the peace of mind that their financial advisors had their best interest at heart. This delay is showing the American people that the only interests Donald Trump cares about are his own and those of his billionaire buddies on Wall Street.

“When I said Donald Trump and his Republican allies don’t give a shit about people, this is exactly what I meant.”

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05 Apr
0

House Panel Snubbs Veterans Center Move from Talihina

Measure to Move State Veterans Center From Talihina Snubbed by House Panel

OKLAHOMA CITY (5 April 2017) – Legislation that would authorize the state’s military veterans center at Talihina to be closed and moved to another city was rebuffed Tuesday afternoon by a House panel.

Senate Bill 544 by Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill, and Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, failed on a 3-5 vote by the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Health.

Hardin maintained that SB 544 was simply “the first step in many,” spanning a period of perhaps three years, that would be required to move the Talihina veterans center.

The alternate site would seem to be Poteau, since SB 544 stipulates, “It is the intent of the Oklahoma Legislature that the new location be within forty (40) miles of the current location and within the city limits of a municipality having at least eight thousand (8,000) in population according to the latest Federal Decennial Census.”

Closing the center and moving it would require approval from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Hardin said, indicating the federal government would pay 65% of the cost and the State of Oklahoma would pay the other 35%.

The state’s share of the expense has been estimated at “around $20 million,” Hardin told the subcommittee. The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) has a bond issue that will be retired by 1 August 2019, and renewing those bonds could finance the state’s share of the relocation project, Hardin suggested.

Federal Approval Essential to Proposal

He urged the subcommittee to approve SB 544, claiming the Legislature’s endorsement is essential to secure matching federal funds for the relocation project. He said the plan would be canceled if the U.S. Veterans Administration rejects the idea. “If the feds don’t approve, we don’t have the money to do it on our own.”

State appropriations to the ODVA have declined from $36 million in Fiscal Year 2015 to $31 million in the current Fiscal Year 2017, House ledgers reflect. In addition, the Legislature siphoned $1.7 million from the ODVA’s revolving fund last year to help plug the $1.3 billion budget hole for FY 2017.

Hardin said he wants a joint House/Senate interim legislative study to convene this summer or fall to thoroughly discuss the Talihina building, staffing levels, funding, etc., and said that afterward the legislators might recommend against moving the center.

But Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, pointed to a sentence in SB 544 in which the ODVA is “authorized and directed to proceed with the development of a new facility” to replace the Talihina center.

And Rep. Claudia Griffith, D-Norman, said endorsement of SB 544 at this stage would be counterintuitive. An interim study has not yet been conducted to determine whether the state should even proceed toward moving the veterans center from Talihina, she argued.

2 Deaths, Mold, Aged Facility

Two veterans residing in the Talihina center have died under gruesome circumstances, and the subcommittee members were told that the remaining residents are in “immediate jeopardy” because of the facility’s staffing problems.

However, Myles Deering, state Secretary of Veterans Affairs and executive director of the ODVA, said that with closure of the facility’s “special needs” unit, the staffing ratio at Talihina meets minimum staffing levels mandated by the federal VA and the state Health Department.

The ODVA contends that hiring and retaining staff members is difficult because of the center’s remote location in eastern Oklahoma.

In addition, the Talihina center needs some capital improvements. The institution was built in 1921, on land donated by the Choctaw Nation, to be a tuberculosis sanatorium; ownership of the facility was transferred to the state’s War Veterans Commission in 1975. The center’s 48-bed “special needs” unit must be closed by June 1, because of the circumstances surrounding one of the two deaths and because the unit is contaminated with mold.

Doug Elliott, deputy executive director of the ODVA, said that 31 of those 48 beds were occupied; 14 of those residents have since been moved to other facilities, and the 17 remaining patients will be transferred to the state’s other veterans centers by the June 1 deadline, he said

Besides Talihina, Oklahoma has a 175-bed veterans center at Ardmore, 302 beds at Claremore, 148 beds at Clinton, 200 beds at Lawton, 122 beds at Sulphur, and a 301-bed veterans center at Norman.

The Talihina center is licensed for 175 nursing care patients, but after the special needs unit is shut down the resident head count will be 127 and the center has been barred by federal VA investigators from admitting any new residents, Elliott said.

Responding to a question, Deering said the Talihina center has a chief medical officer, a nurse practitioner and X-ray equipment, but its laboratories are closed.

Renegar Blames ODVA Director

Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, said his constituents support the center and want it to remain where it is. Renegar, whose legislative district encompasses the Talihina veterans center, said the Choctaw Nation, the Kiamichi Technology Center and Eastern Oklahoma State College at Wilburton have all offered to help with staffing the veterans center.

He also asserted that the problems at the Talihina center should be blamed on the ODVA and its director, who has no training in health care administration.

Deering acknowledged that he’s not trained in health care, but, “I’ve been trained in managing large organizations.”

Afterward, Renegar said the ODVA could and should upgrade the Talihina center with funds it already receives.

ODVA Budget About $150M

Elliott said that for every veteran rated as less than 70% disabled who resides in one of the state’s seven veterans center, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays the ODVA approximately $106 per day. For every veteran in a state center who’s rated as over 70% disabled, the VA pays the ODVA approximately $350 per day, Elliott said.

The ODVA currently operates on a budget of approximately $150 million, Elliott said. That includes $90 million from federal per-diem payments, $30 million in maintenance charges collected from private pay clients, and about $29 million in state appropriations (reduced from the original $31 million because of the latest state revenue failure earlier this year).

SB 544’s Turbulent History

SB 544 was favored by subcommittee Chairman Chad Caldwell, R-Enid; Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa; and Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Broken Arrow. Opponents were Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City; subcommittee Vice Chairman Dale Derby, R-Owasso; Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow; and Representatives Griffith and Roberts.

SB 544 has encountered stiff resistance almost every step of the way.

Initially it failed in the 48-member Senate on a 23-20 vote last month, but passed on reconsideration, 34-7, after its title and emergency clause were stricken. Shortly after the bill was brought up for consideration Tuesday by the A&B subcommittee, a motion was made to restore the title and emergency clause; the panel spurned that motion on a 3-5 vote.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

03 Apr
0

RELEASE: DNC Chair Tom Perez on Gorsuch Vote Failing

Perez On Gorsuch Failing To Clear 60-Vote Requirement

WASHINGTON – DNC Chair Tom Perez released the following statement after reports that Judge Neil Gorsuch has failed to clear the Senate’s 60-vote requirement for the confirmation of Supreme Court justices:

“Neil Gorsuch ruled against a truck driver who was fired for choosing to save his own life rather than freeze to death, and against an autistic child simply seeking a better education. If confirmed, he would only continue building on his long record of cruel rulings that favor powerful and corporate interests over individuals.

“It’s plain and simple: Gorsuch has not earned the votes in the Senate to join the Supreme Court. Republicans can’t fix Gorsuch by changing the rules. They need to change the nominee.”

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31 Mar
0

RELEASE: Leader Inman Asks for Universal House Email Address Restriction Lift

Inman Asks McCall to Lift Restriction On Universal House Email Address

OKLAHOMA CITY (31 March 2017) – House Minority Leader Scott Inman on Friday appealed to Speaker Charles McCall to “immediately restore public access” to an email address that enabled constituents to send messages quickly and conveniently, with one click, to all members of the state House of Representatives.

Inman said it was brought to his attention Thursday that an address which enabled emails to be easily distributed to all state House members – representatives@okhouse.gov – “was changed to internal use only, restricting the general public from using it.”

The modification “must have occurred sometime between Wednesday morning and Thursday morning,” Inman said. The Del City Democrat said that Wednesday morning he received emails from fellow House members and from constituents via representatives@okhouse.gov, yet Thursday morning “I was alerted to the change.”

In addition, a constituent who used the universal email address “without problem” Wednesday “received a return email [Thursday] while using the same address, stating that it was for internal use only.”

Finally, Inman continued in a letter delivered Friday to the Speaker’s office, the switch from external to internal use was confirmed Thursday afternoon by the House’s Information Technology Department.

Civic engagement is “the foundation of a strong democracy,” Inman wrote. “Access to and transparency from our elected officials is needed now more than ever.”

He reminded the Speaker that just a few months ago the House of Representatives imposed “an additional barrier to constituent access to legislators” when it deleted each Representative’s email address from his/her information page and replaced it with a generic contact form.

“Each week I receive numerous emails and calls about this change from understandably upset Oklahomans,” Inman advised McCall. Restricting access to representatives@okhouse.gov is “yet another barrier to access and civic engagement that is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive to democratic ideals.”

“I am not sure what caused this change,” Inman said, but “I would greatly appreciate your support and assistance in immediately restoring public access” to representatives@okhouse.gov, Inman wrote in his letter to McCall.

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MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile

Letter to McCall