Can we fire the Oklahoma legislature on Friday?
10:35 AM EDT on May 26, 2016
Before we begin, I should clarify the headline above is actually a rhetorical question. Although Oklahoma is an "at will" state and a business can terminate your employment at any time for just about any reason, we can't technically fire the Oklahoma legislature on Friday. We'll have to wait until November to do it.
Ha ha ha. Just kidding. I've written a lot of things about the Oklahoma people over the years – making sound, logical decisions in the voting booth is not one them. Expect the Breechens and Cockrofts and Dewberrys and all the other people who turned Oklahoma into the backwards thinking, archaic, discriminatory, trickle down cesspool it's become to be re-elected in landslides. More on that some other time.
There are many reasons why we should fire the Oklahoma legislature (negligence, gross misconduct, religious pandering, just to name of few), but the most obvious is how they've caused and mishandled the state budget crisis. For example, while lawmakers were cutting budgets from essential state services and asking agencies to make difficult spending cuts and sacrifices, they set on cash surpluses and used shady accounting practices in an attempt to increase their own funding.
At least that's what I think happened. English is easy. Math are hard.
Via Phil Cross with KOKH Fox 25:
Senate and House sat on multi-million dollar surpluses while cutting other agenciesNearly every state agency is facing a reduction in funds based on the current budget agreement for fiscal year 2017. On paper, the House and Senate budgets reflect a 25% cut, however that doesn't include the nearly 184% increase in funding for an agency called the "Legislative Services Bureau."What lawmakers have done is transferred their own salaries and benefits out of the House and Senate budgets and into the Legislative Services Bureau, or LSB. Senator Clark Jolley explained on the Senate Floor this was done to take the salaries, which are mandated by law, out of the actual legislative budgets.However, the LSB budget grew by $9 million. Based on the general appropriations for the FY2016 budget, the House and Senate's 2017 appropriation was only reduced by $4.22 million.
Well, that's infuriating. The only thing that could make this worse is if our lawmakers also protected secret slush funds that nobody knew about. Oh wait...
Fox 25 has learned that both the House and Senate have also been holding onto millions of dollars in revolving funds. This is money they received but didn't spend. According to Senate Financial reports, which were prepared by an independent auditor, in FY2014 the Senate had a nearly $4.9 million surplus at the end of the year.In FY2015, the Senate ended that year with a $6.1 million surplus of funds.In both of those fiscal years many state agencies saw their budget cuts.On the House side, Representatives ended FY2014 with $5.6 million. The surplus decreased to nearly $1.6 million in the following budget year.
Yep, while every agency in the state was slashing budgets, and students were going to school only four days a week because we can't afford to pay their teachers, the Oklahoma legislature – the people who helped cause the clusterfuck – was holding onto millions of dollars in slush funds. Once again, can we fire these people on Friday?
Phil Cross asked Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, the guy who runs an oil company and once stole Rick Perry's Warby Parker catalog, to explain:
"The Senate will have $1.6 million less to spend in fiscal year 2017 under the budget agreement. The Senate's appropriation was reduced by 25 percent and we contributed another 13 percent above and beyond that from our revolving funds to help close the budget gap. Since 2009, the Senate has cut its full-time staff by more than 30 percent and I have cut the size of the staff in the Pro Tem's office by 33 percent. Just like most state agencies, the Senate is taking a budget cut as a result of the financial crisis gripping the state."
Question? In addition to firing our legislature, can we hit the reset button and start over? Revolving funds? Legislative services bureau? Why does the budget have to be so damn complicated? Why can't things be upfront, honest and transparent. As a wise man once said, "Keep It Fucking Simple, Stupid."
The fact that our lawmakers found a way to increase their own funding and protect secret stashes of cash should be a good enough reason to fire them. If you need another one, just check out the actual details of the budget agreement they put together. It's so ridiculous even The Oklahoman is critical of it.
Oklahoma Senate passes $6.78 billion budget billThe Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday approved a $6.78 billion general appropriations bill to take effect on July 1.The budget bill, approved 30-16, now goes to the House.Negotiators from the House, Senate and the governor's office announced Tuesday that they had reached agreement on a spending plan calling for widespread cuts, but generally preserving existing funding levels for core priorities like education and health care.
Isn't that some great news! The same lawmakers and Governor who created this mess have put their minds together and figured out a way to fix it! Joy!
In other news, does anyone have suggestions on where we should all move during The Grapes of Wrath, Part II: The Earthquake Bowl. California has plenty of migrant workers and the property values are way too high, so we may have to find a new state to populate as second class citizens. How about Colorado? Yeah, it can be expensive, too, but at least they have legal weed and a functional system of government.
Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, said a $1.3 billion revenue shortfall this year meant that the Legislature needed to come up with an extraordinary strategy to fix systemic budget problems."But we didn't do enough. We didn't do extraordinary amounts of apportionment reform or tax credit reforms," he said.By apportionment reform, he is referring to an effort to limit the funds that flow directly to various priorities outside of the normal appropriations process.Mazzei also has been in favor of reversing a 0.25 reduction in the income tax rate that went into effect on Jan. 1 amid an economic decline. A bill to reverse the reduction never advanced.Efforts to increase the cigarette tax and broaden the sales tax also failed to gain traction this legislative session.Since legislators didn't gain these new sources of continuing revenue, lawmakers will likely be looking at a deficit of $700 million during the next budget cycle in 2017, said Mazzei, who presided over the Senate Finance Committee this year.
Translation: lawmakers did just enough to get by for the rest of the year, and then kicked the real problem down the road for the next legislature to deal with. Hey, that's actually not a bad idea! The Oklahoma legislature finally did something smart! Now we'll have time to fire their asses and elect people who will have the guts to fix the jam they've put us in!
Hehe. Once again, just kidding. We're totally screwed. Get ready Colorado. A new generation of Okies may be coming.
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