Blog

14 May
0

How do you un-ring a bell?

By Wallace Collins, Chairman

TC RyanDoes the recent “leave of absence” now reported as a change in titles, taken by T.C. Ryan undo the controversy created when the newly elected Republican State Party Chair, Randy Brogdon appointed the twice convicted domestic abuser to be the new Executive Director of the Republican party?  Ryan pled guilty of domestic abuse in front of a minor child in 2012.  He was apparently given a fine to pay, and let go.  It appears that Mr. Ryan failed to pay the fine and a bench warrant was issued for that failure.  The charges against the Republican officer also include interfering with an emergency phone call, most likely to 9-1-1 to report the domestic abuse.  All these things occurred in 2012 and 2013, well before Chairman Brogdon appointed Ryan to the high post within the state Republican Party.

From a party claiming to stand for “family values”, it doesn’t make good sense for the State Chair of the Republican Party to ask the new Executive Director to step down and stay on with the party in a new position of Political Director.  What gives?  Does a change in title remove the stain of a guilty plea to Domestic Abuse in front of a Minor Child?  What about the charge of Interfering with an Emergency Phone Call (for help)?  It certainly seems that the Oklahoma Republican Party does not care about women or children or they would not keep this abuser on.

Does this apparent disdain for the safety for women and children show the real attitude of the new chair and his party?  For a party already standing accused of conducting a “War on Women” it seems a little odd that the chair of that party would install a person already convicted of abusing a woman in front of her minor child.  This incident is so upsetting for many that reports are that even members of the Republican legislative caucuses have called for the removal of T.C. Ryan.

In my opinion, a resignation would have been better, because a simple change in title leaves the door open for a later upgrade after the issue blows over.  It is well known that T.C. Ryan was a friend of Chairman Brogdon, but should a friendship overpower common sense and allow someone with the baggage of “domestic abuser” be placed in a high position of power?  In my opinion, the bell has already been rung and there is no way to un-ring this bell!

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Read the official statement here.

11 May
0

Republicans Continue Their Pattern of Bad Behavior

By Wallace Collins, Chair

Oklahoma’s Republican leadership has a long history of a pattern of bad behavior.  Early on, it was Governor Frank Keating calling teachers ”slugs,” then he claimed that Oklahoma college graduates could not properly fill out a job application. Later on, Frank Keating was asked by a media reporter, how he would deal with teachers and their organization, the OEA.  Keating’s smart alec reply was “homicide.”   Still later, Republican Labor Commissioner, Mark Costello called state employees “feral hogs,” but when confronted by a TV reporter, he said he didn’t mean state employees, he meant teachers.

We then follow those mistakes in judgement with the collusion between current governor, Mary Fallin and past Superintendent of Public Instruction, Janet Barressi to close the small but important state agency for Assistive Technology.  That small agency provided education, technology, coaching, and equipment for people with various disabilities, mostly children.  Even after several budget reductions, the Assistive Technology Agency was closed leaving thousands looking for help.

The current legislature is not exempt from this pattern of bad behavior. They continue passing more tax cuts and failing to close loopholes when everyone is well aware of the huge budget shortfall – now expected to possibly reach $670 million according to Earl Sears, (R-Bartlesville) Chari of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.  The Republicans are attempting to use sleight of hand tricks to fill the huge budget hole, things like HB-1827 by Scott Martin (R-Norman) which would raise fees on funeral homes and institute a true “Death Tax” by creating a new fee on the filing of death certificates.

Other bad behavior includes the idea of robbing the teachers’ retirement fund of money to use for other purposes.  Oklahoma teachers have never been well paid, and it is unbelievable that some Grinch would want to then steal from the well-earned pension program, but that idea is a part of the Republican “fill the hole” program. Retired teachers have done without a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for about seven years, losing as much as 15% of their purchasing power.  Last year the governor bragged about adding “new money” for education, but what she didn’t tell us was that the new money followed 23% cuts in funding,  the deepest cuts to education of any state in the union.  So the so-called “new money” brought Oklahoma education funding up to 2008 funding levels.  I guess Oklahoma voters should be satisfied that education funding levels are only seven years behind the rest of the country. Forty-thousand more students and much less money sounds like bad math to me!

Oklahomans have already been warned by the governor that all agencies can expect deep cuts in funding, approaching 7% or more.  With mental health programs and services and Oklahoma veterans already suffering from neglect and past budget cuts, they can certainly expect more pain and suffering, as can the state employees, and the Department of Corrections.  Prison overcrowding and staff shortages have long passed the dangerous level, causing Oklahoma to lead the nation for in-prison murders.  Correction staff and guards are at risk every day and should there be a riot, most likely could not even protect themselves, much less other inmates.

Additionally, there are plans are to raid the County Improvement to Roads and Bridges Fund – the funding source used by counties to replace the many dilapidated county roads and bridges in Oklahoma – which then puts everyone that travels in rural Oklahoma at risk.

Another bad option being considered by Republicans comes with HB-1566, which would privatize Medicaid and balance the budget on the backs of “non-institutionalized aged, blind, and disabled persons.”

In spite of all this, Governor Fallin and her Republican leaders in the House and Senate have refused to put off or rescind the next round of tax cuts slated to go into effect in July of this year.  The tax cuts will further reduce the amount of money the state can appropriate, when it cannot currently pay all of its bills.  I think it was once called “VooDoo Economics.”

All Oklahomans should be up in arms about these serious problems, so contact the Governor’s office to voice your displeasure over this bad behavior.  She can be contacted at (405) 521-2342 and also contact your own House and Senate member.  The House number is (405) 521-2711, the Senate is (405) 524-0126 and ask for your legislator by name.

Don’t know who your legislators are? Click here to find them now.

11 May
0

County Commissioners Join House Democrats in Urging State Officials to Leave Transportation Funding Intact

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: State Rep. Brian Renegar
Capitol: (405) 557-7381

County Commissioners Join House Democrats in Urging State Officials to Leave Transportation Funding Intact

OKLAHOMA CITY – Many rural roads and bridges in Oklahoma sustained extensive damage, and some state highways were flooded, in the storms that raked the state last week, and more rain is forecast this week.

As a direct consequence, several county commissioners and House Democratic legislators on Monday urged Governor Fallin to leave state and county transportation funds intact and not divert any of that revenue to plug the $611 million shortfall in the state budget.

As just one example, LeFlore County’s Board of County Commissioners adopted an emergency resolution Monday in which they asked the governor and the Legislature to declare a State of Emergency “to provide relief funding” to the eastern Oklahoma county, where damage to county roads and bridges is thought to be in excess of half a million dollars.

US 270, 1 mile west of turnpike

US 270, 1 mile west of turnpike

“This amount is a preliminary estimate only, with pending situations still being assessed,” the commissioners said. Bohanon Bridge near Talihina, “which is our priority,” has been “completely washed away,” the commissioners reported.

The LeFlore County commissioners asked the State of Oklahoma to “consider our situation with regards to the CIRB Funding Program and maintaining it at its current level.” The County Improvements to Roads and Bridges fund is “vitally important to the infrastructure of Oklahoma and our economy,” wrote Commission Chairman Lance Smith, Vice Chairman Derwin Gist, and member Cebern Scott.

Counties depend on the CIRB fund to finance big-ticket items such as bridge replacement and road reconstruction projects. Currently that fund has $254 million, ledgers reflect.

County commissioners in Caddo and Grady counties issued initial, preliminary estimates of one-quarter-million dollars of damage in each county to bridges and culverts.

Caddo County Bridge

Caddo County Bridge

One washed-out bridge in Caddo County will cost an estimated $60,000 to replace, officials said. (Photo attached.) That structure was constructed by the WPA (established in 1935, dissolved in 1943) when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, noted Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha.

LeFlore County Commissioner Scott said recently that he has more than 500 miles of county roads and more than 140 bridges, several of which were constructed by the WPA, in his district in southern LeFlore County. The CIRB fund is critical to maintenance of his transportation network, he said. “We rely on that money…That’s our lifeline.”

House Democrats also urged state budget writers and the governor to leave state transportation funding intact, largely because the full extent of damage from last week’s storms has not yet been determined.

“The water is still rising in my area,” said Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener. “We won’t know how bad it really is until the water goes down.”

“At the moment, we still have roadways under water, so a full assessment of our system cannot be developed until the water recedes,” echoed Anthony Echelle, Division 2 engineer with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, in a message to state Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester.

State Highway 31, 2.5 miles east of 31A

State Highway 31, 2.5 miles east of 31A

Washouts from the rainfall included the shoulders of two highways in Pittsburg County: S.H. 31 two and a half miles east of S.H. 31a, and a section of U.S. 270 one mile west of the Indian Nation Turnpike. (Photos attached)

“With the damage from the ice and snow earlier this year, to the saturation of flooding, our pavement infrastructure is a huge concern,” Echelle advised Renegar.

Eight state legislators sent an appeal Monday afternoon to Governor Fallin, urging her to visit some of the affected sites to see the damage for herself. In addition, they asked her to “please protect both county and state transportation funding as you consider the final components” of the state budget. “Governor, our soils are saturated, our creeks and ponds are at capacity,” and more rain is forecast later this week,” the legislators wrote.

Signatories included state Reps. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester; Johnny Tadlock, D-Idabel; Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs; Ed Cannaday, D-Porum; Sen. Larry Boggs, R-Wilburton; Perryman, Lockhart and Renegar.

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

05 May
0

Oklahoma Democrats Support Moratorium on Oil and Gas Disposal Wells in Most Vulnerable Areas

Media Contact:
Sarah Baker
Communications Director
Phone: (405) 824 – 7077
Email address: sarah@okdemocrats.org

Oklahoma Democrats Support Moratorium on Oil and Gas Disposal Wells in Most Vulnerable Areas
and Demand Recognition of Importance for Continued Local Control

[OKLAHOMA CITY, OK, May 5, 2015] – According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Oklahoma experienced 585 earthquakes with magnitudes of 3.0 or higher in 2014 alone. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has also announced that when it came to the cause of the tremendous increase in earthquakes since 2008, oil and gas activity was “very likely” the cause. When there is a 60,000-percent (60,000%) increase in the background seismicity, the Oklahoma Democratic Party feels that this is evidence the state of Oklahoma can no longer afford to ignore.

“The oil and gas industry is the state’s most prominent industry and it is important that we continue to encourage that industry but not at the expense of our citizens, their homes, their pocketbooks, and ultimately their lives,” said Wallace Collins, Chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “Oklahomans must hold their legislators accountable, whether Democrat or Republican, and demand that they put the brakes on allowing this detrimental practice to continue. Here you have a group of people, the Republicans, that tout their support for and campaign on the basis of “local control” then come session do everything they can to restrict the ability of local municipalities and county commissions to regulate and decide what is best for their area and their people.”

An amendment proposed by Representative Cory Williams (D-Stillwater) would have removed the proposed repealer language from Senate Bill 809 but was defeated by a party-line vote. The existing law, on the books since 1935, states that nothing is “intended to limit or restrict the rights of cities and towns…” or “to provide its own rules and regulations…” regarding well-spacing units, drilling, or production.

An additional amendment, offered by Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) would have added the “protection of drinking water sources” to a list of “reasonable” ordinances that a municipality could enact pertaining to the incidental activities of oil and gas operations within its boundaries. The proposal enabling cities to protect their drinking water also failed on a party-line vote.

Further, when Rep. Brian Renegar (D-McAlester) asked Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) if SB 809 would override or supersede a local, standing ordinance which has been on the books for more than 60 years, the answer was yes, the ordinance would need to be “updated.” It is obvious that the Republican leadership believes that local control is excessive and unwarranted.

Oklahoma averaged only 1-3 earthquakes per year from 1975 to 2008, around 20 in 2009, but now currently averages 1.6 per day – the same amount we experienced in a year for over 30 years of record keeping. The U.S. Geological Survey Geophysicist, Dr. William Ellsworth said, “Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.”

Oklahoma has already recorded more than 300 seismic events with a magnitude of over 3.0 for 2015, just 5 months into the year, putting the state on track to greatly exceed, possibly even double the 2014 total. A large event, one in the range of 6.5 – 7.2 magnitude, would be life threatening to Oklahomans.

“Unfettered control of an industry, as has been allowed to happen in the Oklahoma oil and gas industry, is dangerous for everyone involved. We are putting the lives of Oklahomans at risk,” said Collins. “There is a difference between ‘big government’ and responsible government – we want responsible government. This means that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, who has recently taken stronger action on this activity, is now being faced with pending budget cuts. The message the Republicans are sending to us is “If you disagree with the people paying for our re-election campaign, we’re going to cut you off at the knees.

“People in the hardest hit areas – those most promising to the oil and gas industry – are living in fear. We have a responsibility to do something about that, if for no other reason that because we can and it is the right thing to do.”

The bill now awaits final passage on the Senate floor before heading to the Governor’s desk. We urge you to contact Senators and tell them to reinstate proposed House amendments by Reps. Virgin and Williams to protect Oklahoma’s drinking water, the homes, and people especially in the 16 most vulnerable counties (Alfalfa, Carter, Garfield, Garvin, Grant, Lincoln, Logan, Love, Marshall, Noble, Oklahoma, Pawnee, Payne, Seminole, Stevens, and Woodward), their surrounding counties such as Canadian, Cleveland, Murray, and Pottawatomie, and to maintain, not eliminate or degrade, our existing local control.

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05 May
0

GOP-Controlled Legislature is Poised to Reroute Road/Bridge Funding to Plug Gap in State Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Democratic Leader Scott Inman
Capitol: (405) 557-7370

GOP-Controlled Legislature is Poised to Reroute Road/Bridge Funding to Plug Gap in State Budget

OKLAHOMA CITY – Many critical bridge and highway improvement projects in Oklahoma are at risk of being delayed if majority-party leaders in the Legislature raid state and county transportation funds, as they have indicated they intend to do, House Democratic Leader Scott Inman warned Monday.

Republicans in the Oklahoma Legislature “have eroded our revenue sources so badly that core functions of government are being pitted against each other,” the Del City Democrat said. “The people of Oklahoma shouldn’t have to choose between good roads and bridges and good schools. We Democrats believe the Legislature should be able to adequately fund both.”

The majority party “has managed to put this state’s financial status in a precarious position,” Inman said. Because of the GOP’s “single-minded obsession with tax cuts,” the Legislature was confronted with a $188 million budget hole last year and now faces a budget deficit of $611 million.

To plug this massive hole, the Republicans intend to mount a wholesale raid on state savings accounts, “just like they did last year when they siphoned – in at least two instances, unconstitutionally — $291 million from 29 agency revolving funds and savings accounts,” Inman said.

That means two critical transportation funds are at risk, Inman emphasized.

One is the $352 million Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund established in 2005 to upgrade Oklahoma’s long-neglected state highways and bridges. Another $59.7 million is scheduled to be allocated to the ROADS fund this year.

Oklahoma has 372 bridges on its state and federal highway system that are structurally deficient, according to 2014 data compiled by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT).

One example is the Belle Isle Bridge on I-44 in Oklahoma City. A contractor discovered “much worse deterioration than expected” on nearly half of the bridge’s 95 support piers, ODOT disclosed Monday. The extensive damage prompted transportation officials to close lanes and ramps on the bridge April 16; ODOT indicated the ramps will remain closed for the remainder of this year. The bridge, which was constructed in 1978, is traveled by 100,000 vehicles on an average day.

Similarly, the S.H. 83 bridge over the Kansas City Southern Railroad southeast of Poteau was closed on March 27 after ODOT workers discovered deterioration underneath the 78-year-old structure while filling a pothole. Emergency repairs costing $265,000 necessitated closure of the bridge for a month while corroded beams were replaced and a new section of deck was constructed. The bridge, which carries an average of 2,300 vehicles daily, was reopened to traffic on April 29.

ODOT has replaced or renovated 945 highway bridges since 2006, “but it will take many years to catch up with the backlog of needed improvements,” agency officials reported. The department’s Eight-Year Plan includes 935 bridge replacement or rehabilitation projects, which would address all of the remaining structurally deficient highway bridges.

In addition, nearly one-third of the state’s highway miles – 3,867 of the 12,264 total highway miles – are deemed to be substandard and in need of rehabilitation or replacement. Fully 87% of those substandard highways are two-lane routes, records reflect.

ODOT has identified an estimated $6.26 billion critically needed transportation improvement projects on state and federal highways in Oklahoma and the interstate highway system that are scheduled to be performed in its FY 2015-22 eight-year Construction Work Plan (CWP).
[http://www.okladot.state.ok.us/cwp-8-year-plan/index.htm]

More than 3,100 miles of Oklahoma highways are in need of rehabilitation or replacement but are not currently included in the CWP, the Transportation Department confirmed.

Also in the GOP crosshairs is the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Fund, which county commissioners depend on to finance expensive transportation projects. [http://www.okladot.state.ok.us/cirb/pdfs/cirb_fy2014-2018_workplan.pdf] Among those are four expensive projects in northwestern Oklahoma and several in Oklahoma County. (See “County Commissioners Depend on CIRB to Finance Big-Ticket Road/Bridge Projects”)

Preliminary indications are that the Republicans intend to siphon as much as $100 million of the $254 million cash balance in the CIRB fund in order to balance the state budget, Inman said.

“If they do, numerous county road and bridge improvement projects will have to be put off for years,” he said, “because counties are required to have cash-in-hand before starting a project through the CIRB program. On larger projects, it often takes several years to accumulate the necessary funds.”

According to the state Transportation Department, Oklahoma has 3,236 substandard county bridges.

The Republican-dominated Legislature has saddled public school students with an excessive number of tests, denied teachers a pay raise for the last seven years, and diverted $33 million annually from textbook replacement to payment of routine operational expenses for five consecutive years. “Just imagine how much damage they will cause to our bridges, roads and highways if they start siphoning off that money, too,” Inman said.

The Republican Legislature and the Republican governor “need to delay the pending state income-tax reduction and impose across-the-board cuts in all of those expensive tax credits, instead of diverting transportation funds and cutting education again,” Inman asserted.

“And I urge all Oklahomans to contact Republican legislators and advise them to vote against any raid on the CIRB. Leave that fund intact. It’s that important.”

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