The Truth About Funding for Mental Health, DHS and the HCA

I recognize that there is a tremendous amount of information regarding special session, and I understand your frustration determining what the truth actually is.

When stepping out of my private life as an engineer of over 25 years and offered to serve my community in the Oklahoma Legislature, ‘our’ number one goal was to demonstrate integrity and honor as your representative. I say ‘our’ because my wife and family have been an integral part of this journey. Our value system has been clearly defined from the beginning and we have not wavered from the promises I originally made to the people of Oklahoma.

Knowing that I have been faithful to my promises and have always been truthful with you, please know that I voted NO on HB1054 for very good reasons as I will explain below.

We entered Special Session for only one reason – that reason was to address the loss of funding for DHS, Mental Health and the Healthcare Authority (I will refer to these as Healthcare going forward).

I can only speak for myself and a group of likeminded Reagan conservatives when I say that our number one goal was to fund Healthcare. The uncertainty caused over recent weeks as our most vulnerable have been used as bargaining chips to force a tax increase is morally reprehensible.

Funding Healthcare has been my number one priority from the beginning which is why I voted for all 4 bills we sent over to the Senate. If you have not read my prior post, it is important to read because these 4 bills would have funded Healthcare and prevented most if not all interruption of services.

Rahm Emanuel said… “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” It appears that our Governor sees the Healthcare crisis as an opportunity to raise taxes, accomplishing what she couldn’t do during regular session.

Since the beginning of special session, our Governor and legislative leadership have made attempt after attempt to raise taxes on the people of Oklahoma. While a group of us were able to stop most of these increases during regular session this spring, Special Session was seen as the perfect opportunity to pass the largest tax increase on the people of Oklahoma in a generation. All of this was done under the false pretense of funding Healthcare.

The truth is, even if HB1054 had passed, the December 1st cuts would have still gone through because of the way bills become law and because of how tax collections are processed.

Please allow me to say this again, voting for HB1054 would not have stopped the loss of services on December 1st. The best way to solve the funding problem for Healthcare was to use available cash, but the Governor refused to do this. Instead she told health providers the only way for them to get funding was through a tax increase, which is a lie, as you can see from the bills we already passed.

Contrary to the Governor’s statements, the businesses and citizens of Oklahoma are NOT undertaxed. We have a state spending addiction. At least 3 state agencies are now under investigation for fraud or mismanagement. Most agencies haven’t received a performance audit in years.

I’ve seen state agency heads play this pressure game several times in my 3+ years of public service. They always threaten to cut the most politically sensitive programs first, to pressure us for tax increases. The fact that Gov. Fallin didn’t START with using available funds, rather than asking for tax increases, caused needless anxiety for vulnerable people, all for political pressure games.

Going forward, here’s just a few items of waste that could be cut and reallocated to better uses, including teacher pay.

Roll Back Big Wind subsidies. Over a billion of your tax dollars have subsidized huge wind companies, often foreign-owned, which provide almost no jobs to our Oklahoma economy. (By contrast, the oil and gas industry employs over 150,000, and pays 25% of all Oklahoma taxes).

Trim University Administration Costs. Oklahoma’s universities have administrative costs 70% higher than the national average. Reducing administration to the national average saves $374 million annually.

Shift more education dollars to teachers. House Bill 1017 and the lottery were supposed to “save” education? We see that administrative staff has grown much faster than the student/teacher population and rolling this staff back frees money for classroom teacher pay raises.

Reserve TSET funds for Medicaid. The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) wastes money on ads for smoke-free strip clubs and drag shows, among other things. Reserving TSET for Medicaid saves $85 million annually.

Criminal justice reform. Let’s be tough on crime in a cost-efficient way. Too many Oklahomans are jailed for what amounts to debt collection, often for minor offenses.

Tax increases ALWAYS kill jobs. We cannot justify forcing taxpayers to pay more, when 20,000 high paying jobs have lost their oil & gas jobs in the past few years. Passing tax increases now will accomplish nothing other than covering up the waste and corruption in state spending. If we had passed HB1054, wasteful state agencies would be back in a few years asking for more money – we have seen this over and over.

I fully support a “Classroom Teacher” pay raise. My concern comes back to how to pay for $200+ million more dollars per year when we know we will enter the next budget cycle short $400+ million. Implementing a teacher pay raise and a state employee pay raise on the back of a cigarette tax and oil/gas does not make sense. Studies have proven that as the price of cigarettes goes up people either quite smoking or turn to the black market.

Many have shared that they are frustrated with the cyclicality of our budgeting process – they ask: ”why can’t we figure out a way to stabilize the revenue streams that fund our economy”. Ironically, by paying for pay raises with oil & gas dollars, we only make the matters worse because we know that income from oil & gas is never stable.

Finally, raising taxes at this time threatens to stall or possibly even reverse the fragile economic recovery we have started to see. When a family member loses their job, the family doesn’t decide to buy a new car and go further in debt, they look for ways to save and make it through the tough times. State government shouldn’t increase spending until know for sure that our economy has recovered. Recovery is occurring, and we are seeing some very encouraging numbers as our revenues are gradually increasing, but unfortunately, it doesn’t happen overnight. Raising taxes should always be a last resort.