Blog

05 Jan
0

Pruitt Request for Third-Party Audit is Shameful and Irresponsible

Whether it’s a feeble attempt by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to sue over another state’s ability to enact its own laws (Colorado), the blatant attempt at a cover-up after a botched execution (Clayton Lockett), or burning through state money in numerous unsuccessful lawsuits dealing with such pressing issues like keeping a slab of marble on the Capitol grounds, it’s obvious to the people of Oklahoma that Pruitt is not truly concerned with his responsibility to protect Oklahoma’s interest.

Now Pruitt’s office wants to refuse to allow Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones – an elected representative of the people and a member of the same political party – the access and ability to perform an audit of the Attorney General’s office over hurt feelings from statements Jones made in a previous news article. Jones, a Republican, continues to be the seemingly only voice of reason in Oklahoma Republican leadership by calling out the ridiculousness of the legislature’s inability to manage a budget and create revenue streams and the irresponsibility of actions of various state agencies – namely the Attorney General’s office – to make fiscally responsible decisions when Oklahoma is facing one of the worst budget crises ever.

Time and again we see news of Pruitt’s ethical violations, obvious cover-ups, and lopsided arguments that not only benefit special interest groups and wealthy campaign or Super PAC (political action committee) donors, but also are detrimental and wholly irresponsible to the people of Oklahoma. The disappointment sets in when evidence and coverage of these deplorable and irresponsible actions are drowned out by political rhetoric from the entirety of the Oklahoma Republican Party in an effort to create as much distraction – even if purely by accident and idiocy – as possible so that their constituents can’t see the source of the fire for all of the smoke.

“Scott Pruitt has proven time and time again he can’t be trusted as a good steward of taxpayer funds. He wants to outsource a job to a third-party that could very likely be partisan-based or benefit one of his campaign contributors or contributors of his PAC or Super PAC instead of allowing the State Auditor and Inspector, the chief financial officer of the State of Oklahoma, to do the job he was elected by the people to do. This shows a complete lack of respect for ethics and accountability in elected office and a lack of responsibility for taxpayer dollars especially during a revenue crisis. We say shame on the Attorney General’s office for even suggesting such an outlandish proposal,” stated Russell Griffin, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office has not undergone a comprehensive audit since 2009 and we can only begin to speculate what Pruitt is afraid Jones might find once the books are opened.

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Read Oklahoman article: Oklahoma attorney general seeks to select own independent auditor (January 4, 2016)

05 Jan
0

ODP Comments on Corporation Commission Plan for Disposal Wells

Oklahoma is currently experiencing the worst seismic activity we have ever known and despite more than 5,000 earthquakes ranging from a magnitude of 1.3 to 4.7 in the last year, the Oklahoma Legislature chose to stifle the ability for local municipalities to set limits for disposal wells based on the needs of their community. This move, steered by the Republican-dominated state legislature, the same politicians who continually campaign on the ideals of small government and local control, continue to spread misinformation and tie the hands of their own constituents.

Yesterday’s action by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Oil and Gas Conservation Division (OGCD) to call for a reduction in well activity is only a small step in dealing with a much larger problem. It is disappointing that the legislature and the Corporation Commission waited so long to take action towards remedying a problem that has been allowed to get so far out of control, especially over the past 3 years. This is evident by the recent news that Oklahoma has now become the earthquake capital of the world.

“Now, as we approach the start of the 2016 legislative session, we call on the legislature to take swift and immediate action to restore local control and deal with a problem which continues to spiral out of hand. Furthermore, we call upon the people of Oklahoma to hold their elected officials accountable for their action or inaction as it may be and should these officials refuse to take the necessary action, that communities join together to make purposeful and decisive steps at the ballot box in 2016 to elect new representatives that put the concerns of their people and property above the priorities of special interests,” said Mark Hammons, chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

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See Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s plan for Reduction in Volumes for Wells Located in Area of Interest for Induced Seismicity (January 4, 2016)

02 Jan
2

Fallin Asks Working Oklahomans to Foot the Bill

[Oklahoma City, OK, February 1, 2016] In today’s State of the State address from Governor Fallin, many were befuddled as to what direction she believes we should see the state go this year, other than the perpetual slide down the mountain. This year’s address was little more than more Republican rhetoric and talking points – spread far enough apart that when one statement contradicted an earlier one it was harder to spot.

Governor Fallin finally recognized that Oklahoma has a revenue problem, not a spending problem, but without admitting that the Republican legislature and her leadership are to blame. We are shocked that the Governor is proposing $900 million in new taxes in order to recuperate the losses incurred through her administration’s failed tax experiment. She is continuing to try to shift the tax burden from the people and corporations that are already receiving huge tax breaks and place it on the backs of hardworking Oklahoma families that need relief the most.

Today the Governor once again showed her lack of genuine support for public education in Oklahoma.A major part of her “green means go” budget proposal is a $3,000 per year pay increase for teachers. Our response: “Where is the money?!?!?” Oklahoma is in one of the biggest budget crises since the 1980s, with the possibility of yet another revenue failure in the coming months. Even if the legislature manages to pass this nominal pay raise, with Fallin’s massive sales tax increase, most teachers won’t see any of that money stay in their pocket.

Furthermore, rural schools and rural Oklahomans were placed on the chopping block with the suggestion of forced school consolidation and the Governor’s endorsement of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which only help a few in urban areas of the state. Rural Oklahoma’s educational options are not as broad as the private and charter school selection we see in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and the surrounding metropolitan areas however, the Governor and most Republican legislators support this model which has proven time and again to be black holes of financial ruin and a lack of accountability. The most important thing we can do is educate the children of our state, but Fallin’s failed leadership continues to demonize teachers and school administrators while punishing students and parents for the failed policies of this Republican administration.

Governor Fallin completely failed to address the numerous concerns around earthquakes and wastewater disposal wells – an issue that many Oklahomans from across the state have come out to protest the lack of action from the legislature and the Governor. Nothing was mentioned about a plan to embolden the Corporation Commission to take further action and there was no discussion on the recent $1.4 million transfer to conduct more research on the earthquakes.

Finally, there was no mention of any plan to expand Medicaid despite wide support from Oklahomans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike. Medicaid expansion would mean increased revenue for Oklahoma, the ability to save rural hospitals and care facilities, and provide nearly 100,000 Oklahomans with affordable healthcare coverage.

There were, however, a few points where, for a moment, there seemed to be a light switch flipped on far down the hallway. “She is proposing a ballot initiative to address issues affecting non-violent criminal sentencing policies such as those affecting drug possession and the minimum value threshold for grand larceny,” said Sarah Baker, Communications Director for the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “She also proposed modernizing Oklahoma’s sales tax not by increasing the rate but by ‘broadening the tax base’ by imposing new or additional taxes on more goods and services.

“This State of the State address was an example in the Governor’s lack of concern for the issues facing the poor and middle class, children and families, and teachers. It was, however, another example of her unwavering support for failed economic policies, political rhetoric, and talking points that given enough distance in a speech can contradict themselves.”

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16 Dec
0

Oklahoma Democratic Party Statement on Budget Failure

[Oklahoma City, OK, December 16, 2015] Yesterday the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) released information that the gross revenue fund receipts will result in a $900.8 million revenue failure next year. This comes just two weeks before a massive tax break goes into effect, a tax break that the majority of Oklahomans agree is unnecessary and uncalled for[1] at a time when we face year after year of budget deficits compounded by the fact that the Republican legislature refuses to address the statewide revenue loss. Today, Mark Hammons, Chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party released the following statement following this news:

“The budget failure we are seeing – and have seen over the past two years – has two parts: an inability to project revenue and irresponsibility in assessing and allocating taxes. The result is basic state services, which were already cut to the bone, are going to be cut again this year. This next year, the ever-growing budget hole will mean even more drastic cuts to education, law enforcement, and roads and bridges.

“The Republicans have shown that they simply don’t have the willingness to engage in good government and their policies are based on rhetoric and not reality. Their financial programs are tilted in favor of large corporate and political donors while ignoring the needs of working Oklahomans.

“It’s time for the direction of government to dramatically change and that will require a leadership change from top to bottom, starting with legislative elections in 2016. It is now clearer than ever that Democrats represent the voice of reasonable and responsible government choice. Democrats fought until the bitter end to stop the tax breaks from going into effect during a budget crisis, but the Republicans refused to face reality and accept that it was not a responsible move until we have addressed our revenue failures.

“An example of the lack of priorities is that the Governor has turned down our tax dollars by denying health care to thousands of Oklahomans and putting rural hospitals at risk. Expanding healthcare would have generated over half of a billion dollars in revenue, created more than 13,000 new jobs, and would have helped our rural hospitals to continue the services necessary to provide timely healthcare for persons in rural Oklahoma. Without our rural hospitals, there’s no real opportunity for true industrial growth. Her policies, and those of the Republican legislature, have directly harmed rural Oklahoma by taking away funds and jobs that are necessary for the growth of our rural communities.

“When the Republicans cut money from the county roads and bridges fund, it was a cut into the area of infrastructure that needs the greatest amount of work. In areas where bridges are out, it may take excessive time to travel which leads to a reduction in potential industry in areas that which desperately need job growth.

“Yet another example of the problem we’re facing is that we now have more than 900 emergency teaching certificates issued in Oklahoma. Our children are going to school and being taught by persons that don’t have the education necessary for the courses they are teaching. These are passionate people that want to do right by our children and their communities, but our refusal to pay a living wage and recruit quality teachers is a disservice to the next generation. Our children’s K-12 education affects their ability to get a good college education and go into the workforce prepared to face what life may throw at them. We are losing the ability for our children to get a quality education in our school system because we won’t fund the necessary areas to recruit teachers that are properly trained and certified.

“We need to have a meaningful budget that addresses the reality of our situation instead of continuing the pattern of corporate welfare benefitting a small group as opposed to the people of Oklahoma. This is not something any of us should expect out of this Governor and her Republican legislature – if it hasn’t happened yet, there’s no reason to think it’s going to happen in 2016.”

1. Perry, G. (2014, March 19). Poll: Support for tax cuts has dropped significantly. http://okpolicy.org/poll-support-tax-cuts-dropped-significantly

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16 Dec
0

Inman Contends State Revenue Failure Self-Inflicted

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Democratic Leader Scott Inman issued the following statement today after the Office of Management and Enterprise Services announced a state revenue failure requiring appropriated state agencies to take mid-year budget cuts, and reported that the budget hole next year will be almost $901 million.

“The Republican-controlled Legislature helped create this financial crisis by cutting over $1 billion in income taxes since 2004, coupled with enactment of nearly $2 billion in tax credits and exemptions.

Just a week ago Republican State Treasurer Ken Miller described repeated reductions in the state income tax as ‘devastatingly irresponsible’ considering the current funding status of core services.

Nevertheless, in two weeks Oklahoma will experience the first tax cut in state history to be enacted at a time of budget deficits. House Democrats tried repeatedly to postpone or repeal that tax cut, but every Republican in the House spurned our attempts.

The $188 million state budget gap of 2014 tripled to a budget deficit of $611 million in 2015, and the latest projection is a deficit that will be half again higher: $900.8 million.

The GOP-controlled Legislature began cutting core state services when oil was commanding $100 a barrel. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has had to slash $446 million from its budget in the past five years, adversely affecting low-income families and health care providers. Public education in Oklahoma has experienced the deepest cuts of any state in the nation.

Republicans campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility, but instead they have presided over fiscal insanity.

It’s long past time for this state’s Republican leaders to stop governing by a failed political philosophy and begin to govern with an understanding of political reality.

It’s disingenuous to wring one’s hands in despair when the house is on fire, if you helped light the match.”

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Mike W. Ray

Media Director, House Democratic Caucus