Tidbits for Fall 2015
By: Constitution Staff
Jari Askins Takes New Post
Governor Mary Fallin announced September 18 that Jari Askins, special adviser on child welfare and Pinnacle Plan implementation, would leave her post on October 1 to become the administrative director of Oklahoma's courts. The governor in April tapped Askins, a former Oklahoma lieutenant governor, to oversee implementation of the Pinnacle Plan, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services' (DHS) ongoing effort to reform the state's child welfare operations. Fallin said that Pinnacle Plan implementation and child welfare services continue to be a priority for her. She will name a special adviser on child welfare and Pinnacle Plan implementation to replace Askins sometime in the future.
A native of Duncan, Askins has served in all three branches of government. Before her role at DHS she served as interim executive director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. In her new role as court administrator she will assist the chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court in overseeing state courts. That includes court budgets, payroll and administrative duties in all but two district courts. Only Tulsa and Oklahoma County courts have administrators. Askins served as a Stephens County special district judge for eight years, from 1982-1990. In 1991, she was appointed to the Pardon and Parole Board, which elected her as its first female chairman. She later served as executive director of the Pardon and Parole Board. She was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1994 and served for 12 years, serving her last two-year term as Democratic Leader. Askins served as Oklahoma's 15th lieutenant governor from 2007-11. She passed up seeking re-election to run for governor in 2010, losing to Fallin.
Lankford Remanufacturing Bill
On September 28, U.S. Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Gary Peters (D-MI) applauded the passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of legislation they introduced, the Federal Vehicle Repair Cost Savings Act, which requires federal agencies to encourage the use of remanufactured parts in federal vehicle repairs when doing so lowers costs, maintains quality and performance and does not compromise safety. Lankford and Peters introduced the legislation in February, and the bill now heads to the President's desk after passing the Senate unanimously in June. "Our nation has billions in waste and deficit spending this year, and any way we can save federal tax dollars should be explored," said Lankford. The federal government spends nearly $1 billion annually to maintain a fleet of approximately 588,000 vehicles.
Remanufactured parts are often less expensive than new parts and have been returned to same-as-new condition through a standardized industrial process. Using remanufactured parts such as engines, transmissions, alternators and starters helps reduce taxpayer burden, conserves materials and supports the American auto supply industry. The United States is the world's largest producer, consumer and exporter of remanufactured goods. Remanufacturing of motor vehicle parts provides 30,653 full-time U.S. jobs, while remanufacturing of off-road equipment provides an additional 20,870 jobs.
State Tax Receipts Below Estimate
Revenue for the appropriated state budget continued its steady slide in September as General Revenue Fund (GRF) collections again missed the monthly estimate and prior year collections. As state government's main operating fund, the GRF is the key indicator of state government's fiscal status and the predominant funding source for the annual appropriated state budget. GRF collections are revenues that remain for the appropriated state budget after rebates, refunds and mandatory apportionments. Gross collections, reported by the State Treasurer, are all revenues collected by the state before rebates, refunds and mandatory apportionments. September GRF collections of $544.1 million were $4.8 million, or 0.9 percent, below the official estimate upon which the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriated state budget was based, and $16.9 million, or 3 percent, below prior year collections. Total GRF collections for the first quarter of FY 2016 were $1.4 billion, which is $4.4 million, or 0.3 percent, below the official estimate and $12.3 million, or 0.9 percent, below prior year collections.
"First quarter revenues landed on decent footing, but the road ahead will be rockier," said Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston Doerflinger. Oklahoma state government builds a five percent cushion into every appropriated state budget to prevent mandatory budget reductions if revenues fall below the official estimate. If revenues fall more than five percent below the estimate for too long, mandatory appropriation reductions must occur to maintain a balanced budget. "Given the ongoing oil price challenge and resulting workforce reductions, every bit of that five percent cushion may be needed," Doerflinger said. Doerflinger is Gov. Mary Fallin's lead budget negotiator with the Legislature and the director of OMES, which issues the monthly GRF reports.
It was announced on October 14 that a program for individuals and businesses to pay past-due Oklahoma taxes without penalty and interest collected about $38.5 million in tax revenue in just four weeks, surpassing projections for the two-month program. When Gov. Mary Fallin and the Legislature enacted PAYRight OK this past legislative session through passage of House Bill 2236, it was projected to produce about $35 million in new revenue during the penalty-free period. With about five weeks left in the voluntary compliance initiative, the Oklahoma Tax Commission had already collected $38,545,906 as of Oct. 9. PAYRight OK exceeding expectations comes at a critical time with the state facing revenue challenges brought on by reductions in the oil and gas sector."PAYRight OK is one of the many tools the governor and Legislature used to address the budget gap last session, and it is working even better than expected," said Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston Doerflinger.
The PAYRight OK initiative began Sept. 14 and ends Nov. 13. Oklahoma taxpayers can file past-due state tax returns and pay their liabilities for any periods ending before Jan. 1, 2015, without paying penalty and interest. Taxpayers also have the option of getting on a limited payment plan if they can't immediately pay the full amount owed. The program will take payments for individual and corporate income tax, sales tax, use tax, withholding tax, mixed-beverage tax, gasoline and diesel tax, gross-production and petroleum-excise tax, and privilege tax. "About the only thing people like less than paying a tax is paying a penalty on that tax. Temporarily waving the past-due penalty is producing a respectable windfall at an opportune time while also allowing individuals and businesses to clear up delinquencies. We encourage more taxpayers to take advantage of the PAYRight OK opportunity while it lasts," Doerflinger said.
Strategic Tax Reform Proposals
A tax on service transactions would be a more reliable revenue stream for the state and could potentially replace the corporate income tax and possibly the individual income tax, state Rep. Mark McCullough (R-Sapulpa) told colleagues in the House Appropriations & Budget Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation during an interim study at the state Capitol in October. McCullough said a service tax would levy a tax on transactions between service providers and customers, including everything from oil changes and legal services to air conditioning installations and medical care. "This is not a tax increase proposal; this is a dollar for dollar swap that I am suggesting," said McCullough. "We live in a service-based economy. The benefit is that services would be a much more reliable revenue stream for the state than corporate taxes or income taxes, which have proven to be unstable." McCullough said the corporate tax simply doesn't work and that personal income taxes are too reliant on the energy sector, which can be unstable. Tony Mastin, Director of the Oklahoma Tax Commission, told the committee that two-thirds of Oklahoma corporations don't even pay the tax because of exemptions and profit requirements in law, and that revenue from the tax has fluctuated from as much as $550 million some years to $150 million in other years. "The corporate tax is a joke and any effort to repeal corporate tax credits is extremely difficult," said McCullough. "We can't win because the corporations send armies of lobbyists to the Capitol if you even suggest repealing a tax credit. So let's beat them at their own game and just repeal the corporate tax altogether."
McCullough said his primary goal is to build a tax structure for the state that is more competitive, predictable and more in line with a modern economy that is service based and digitally driven. McCullough said a service tax would be more fair and predictable.Similarly, McCullough proposed replacing the state's neither high nor low income tax with either a flat three percent rate with no exemptions or an outright reduction of the rate to zero. He added that going to zero would be difficult to accomplish. The ideas for the reforms emerged from the House Tax Policy Working Group, established in 2014, which included state Representatives McCullough, Charles McCall (R-Atoka), Tom Newell (R-Seminole), David Derby (R-Owasso) and Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville). McCullough said he would like the citizens of Oklahoma to make the decision by placing a question on the state ballot.
Reducing Teacher Shortage
The plan developed by Republican leaders in the Oklahoma House of Representatives provides an additional $3,000 incentive for retired educators to return to teaching to help reduce the statewide teacher shortage. "Like every state except Pennsylvania, Oklahoma faces a significant teacher shortage," said Rep. Randy McDaniel (R-Edmond), chairman of the Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee. "Demographics are impacting the situation causing record numbers of the most experienced teachers to retire. We want to provide an additional incentive for valued teachers to stay in the classroom, but the plan must also be affordable. Continuing our commitment to improving the financial strength and security of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System remains a core priority."
Under current law, a teacher who retires from the public school system may earn up to $15,000 from a school or school district during the first 36 months after retirement and still receive full retirement benefits from the state. After 36 months, teachers may earn an unlimited amount from a school or school district without a reduction in Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS) benefits. McDaniel is the author of House Bill 1061, which will increase the maximum amount that a retired teacher may earn during the first three years after retirement from $15,000 to $18,000. In order to offset the negative fiscal impact to OTRS of raising the cap by $3,000, the employer contribution rate will be increased from 9.5 percent to 11 percent for retirees who are rehired.
Law Enforcement Consolidation
State Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City) announced that he is moving forward with a bill to consolidate Oklahoma state law enforcement agencies. After meeting with members of the agencies involved as well as with other stakeholders in Oklahoma's criminal justice system, Christian reviewed his plans with his colleagues in the House leadership. In the end, they came to an agreement on a plan that would make Oklahoma's system both more efficient and more effective. "Currently, Oklahoma has no overall system that evaluates the state's crime trends and deploys our resources to fight crime in a smart way," said Christian. "There is limited sharing of information or resources between state law enforcement agencies. We are only one of a few states that still operate this way."
Rep. Scott Biggs (R-Chickasha) who was also involved in the creation of the plan, noted that it would involve consolidation of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Biggs stated that while the plan would likely involve consolidating other law enforcement agencies in the future, the measure going forward in the upcoming legislative session would likely be limited to those three agencies. Christian said that consolidation does not necessarily mean merger at all levels. "Each of these agencies has proud histories and cultures," Christian said. "We respect that, and we were very careful to protect those traditions in our plan." Christian stated that the plan would organize Oklahoma's law enforcement efforts into a system somewhat like that which exists in Texas. It would involve a commission that employs a director, and that director would have common control over each of the agencies. Christian noted that he worked closely with the criminal justice faculty at East Central University in developing the plan. Christian concluded, "I am confident that this re-organization will not only effectively ensure Oklahoma's safety, but also save our taxpayers' dollars."
Medical Examiner's Office
State Senator Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) announced on October 8 that an agreement has been reached to relocate the State Medical Examiner's Office to the former Oklahoma County Health Department building. Jolley said the agreement would result in significant savings and help the Medical Examiner's Office to restore its accreditation. "I'm very grateful to the Commissioners of the Land Office (CLO) for being innovative in helping us find a solution that will save state dollars and help restore our accreditation," said Jolley. Gov. Mary Fallin said "This action today gives the state a very good option to move the state medical examiner's office into a new facility and out of its old, cramped and dilapidated building," said Fallin, who serves as CLO chairman. "This is a win-win for the state. With the CLO owning the building, the lease payments it collects will go directly with other funds it collects and distributes to public schools and higher education," Fallin said.
Under current state law, the Medical Examiner's Office was required to move to the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). Jolley has introduced Senate Bill 866 to eliminate this requirement. "UCO President Don Betz and former President Roger Webb have been great partners in this effort. While all of us would have preferred to see the synergy between the Medical Examiner, the UCO Forensic Science Institute and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation's Crime Lab, the fiscally conservative approach here is to save the money and expedite the renovation to get the accreditation back. I'm pleased to support this fiscally responsible move to support public safety," Jolley said.
Mandatory Vaccinations Bill
The Chairman of the Oklahoma Senate Health and Human Services Committee pledged to not hear legislation in the next legislative session which would expand the mandate for mandatory vaccination of children. "Although I have had my children vaccinated, and believe some vaccinations are true life-savers, I believe vaccinations work best when parents and communities are educated by health professionals, not the government," said state Senator Rob Standridge (R-Norman). Standridge said there is growing concern over the issue and wished to reassure those opposing the measure. "As chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, I refused to hear legislation last session mandating childhood vaccinations, and nothing has happened to cause me to reconsider," he said.
Standridge, a pharmacist, said events across the country have caused an increased awareness of vaccinations and the valuable role they play in protecting children from life-changing, or even life-ending, diseases. "As a health professional, I encourage parents to vaccinate their children, but I stop short as a legislator in mandating them to do so." Standridge also said that with health care being a major point of debate, "it is probably not the best time to put more pressure on the doctor-patient relationship, built on openness, trust and choice."
Sen. Ervin Yen (R-Oklahoma City), a cardiac anesthesiologist, plans to file legislation for the upcoming session that would remove the religious and philosophical exemption options allowed to parents in Oklahoma, one of 18 states that allow for exemptions.
Ban Smart Meters
In October, the Tulsa 9.12 Project, a conservative grassroots organization, announced it is requesting the Attorney General of the state of Oklahoma to establish a moratorium on any further installation of the problematic utility or water meters (aka Smart Meters). Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, President of Tulsa 9.12 Project said: "It is evident that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission regulates the citizens and represents the Utilities." Tulsa 9.12 Project is requesting the Attorney General of the state of Oklahoma to intervene on behalf of the citizens of Oklahoma. The group is asking that all meters with transmitters be removed or the transmitters be turned off until the meters can be proven biologically safe from the electromagnetic radiation transmissions, and that all meters must contain surge protection and be properly grounded, that no data outside of usage shall be transmitted or collected and that no added tariffs other than the operating costs to produce and transport the energy to a customer be permitted.
The group notes that no state or federal law mandates the installation of an AMR or AMI Smart Meter without the expressed request of the customer. They are asking the AG to investigate whether the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) has the authority to implement a Demand Program which has been vacated. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), issued Order No. 745 which allowed Utilities compensation for demand programs tied to the smart meter deployment. The highly controversial FERC order was vacated in its entirety by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on May 23, 2014, yet the OCC is passing rules to implement the Demand Program in Oklahoma. If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Ronda Vuillemont-Smith at 918-853-7986 or email at Tulsa912er@gmail.com.
On October 20, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak asked property and casualty insurers to send each policyholder a clarifying notice of earthquake coverage. The requirement is in response to a growing number of questions about earthquake insurance. "We know that most people don't read their policies. Even if they do, the language can be tough to understand. I issued this bulletin so that, hopefully, Oklahoma consumers get a better idea of exactly what kind of coverage they have for earthquakes. The goal here is consumer education and protection," said Doak.
Historically, earthquake insurance has excluded earth movement resulting from human activities such as mining, explosives and oil and gas exploration. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has determined that the majority of the quakes experienced in Oklahoma are more than likely the result of wastewater injection into disposal wells. Companies writing earthquake insurance in Oklahoma have reacted to the flurry of earthquakes in various ways. Some have amended their policy forms to cover damage resulting from wastewater injection. Others have simply been waiving the man-made exclusion. A third group still excludes quakes induced by wastewater injection. Insurers providing earthquake coverage have 45 days to issue a clarifying notice to policyholders and licensed insurance agents.
Arnett Works for Democrat
David Arnett, owner of the news website TulsaToday and the political consulting company Home Front Strategies L.L.C., called for Randy Brogdon's resignation as chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party just a month into Brogdon's tenure. In his column in which he called for Brogdon's resignation, Arnett burnished his own Republican credentials (TulsaToday May 17) going so far as to call himself one of the "... "old lions' of the Republican Party." But, according to a campaign report filed at the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, Arnett's Home Front Strategies did $2,015 of campaign work for Democrat Jonathan Townsend who ran for an open house seat in District 73 after Representative Kevin Matthews was elected to the senate seat vacated by Jabar Shumate. Townsend came in second in the Democrat runoff election. Regina Goodwin was elected to the house seat in District 73 the July special election. No Republican filed for the seat. Arnett is a close ally of Tulsa County Republican Chairman Mike Ford and former state GOP Chairman David Weston. While he was working for the election of Democrat Jonathan Townsend, Arnett was participating on the Tulsa County Republican Executive Committee this past June.
Death of Reid Mullins
Oklahoma City radio talkshow host Reid Mullins passed away on August 13, 2015. Reid was 52 and had been in ill health and had lived with debilitating pain for many years. Earlier this year his show was cancelled from the morning lineup at KZLS 1640 AM after just over one year. The conservative host was previously dropped from KTOK 1000 AM after eight years as the morning host.
Reid's love affair with radio began when he received his first transistor radio as a young boy. He would stay up all night listening to KOMA in Oklahoma City and frequencies around the world. After graduating in 1981 from Putnam City High School, he attended the University of Oklahoma, where he transitioned his love of radio into his first on-air show as a disc jockey at KNOR. He graduated in 1985, with a BA in Organizational Communication. In 2002, OU invited him back as an adjunct instructor of audio production. He primarily worked in radio with brief stints in print and TV.
Over the next 30 years of broadcasting, he worked at many Oklahoma City area stations including KATT, KRXO, KXY, etc. While on the air one Saturday afternoon, Reid spoke with a caller requesting her favorite song. On September 7, 1996, that caller named Michelle became Reid's wife. His childhood dream to helm his own morning radio talkshow on KTOK was realized in 2005 with "Mullins in the Morning." Within a few years, he met his ultimate goal when his show hit #1 in the ratings.
Death of J.T. Stites
Former state Representive J.T.Stities (D-Sallisaw) passed away on September 29, 2015, in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He was 86. He was buried at Sallisaw City Cemetery, in Sallisaw, Oklaoma. John Thomas "J.T." Stites II was born on October 7, 1928, in Greenwood Junction, Arkansas. He graduated from Sallisaw High School in 1948, served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and attended Northeastern University where he got a master degree in education. When he moved back to Sallisaw in 1962, Stites became a math teacher and later a principal at the high school. He and his wife, Mary Jo, were also the first co-directors of the Sallisaw campus of Carl Albert State College. The Democrat legislator represented House District 2 in Sequoyah County from 1990 to 2002. His cumulative average rating on the Oklahoma Conservative Index was 19 percent.
Other Stories From Fall 2015 Issue
Andrew K. Boyle
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Rep. Jason Murphey
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One vacant legislative seat was recently filled and candidates have filed for the special election...
Cathy Costello, widow of the late Labor Commissioner Mark Costello, accepted the Samuel Adams...
A couple of years ago, Oklahoma Constitution editor Steve Byas wrote in his column, concerning the...
Pam Pollard Elected Republican State Chairman...
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