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Thursday, November 23rd, 2017Last Update: Sunday, November 5th, 2017 11:44:31 PM

RIED Report Names Legislators Supporting Big Business Interests

By: Constitution Staff

In June, the Research Institute for Economic Development (RIED) released their legislative scorecard showing that 11 members of the state Senate and 12 members of the state House of Representatives scored a perfect 100 on the 2017 RIED Report. The non-partisan organization produces the annual scorecard, grading Oklahoma legislators’ votes on business issues. But, many charge that rather than being a pro-business scorecard, the RIED Report is better characterized as supporting corporate welfare programs, state fee increases, and state spending.

Former state Rep. Susan Winchester has been RIED president since 2009, but resigned this summer to become chief-of-staff to Lt. Governor Todd Lamb. The scores for 2017 were issued before she left the organization. Commenting on this year’s report, Winchester noted that 94 members had passing scores of 70% or higher, which the groups considers to be a passing grade. “I was especially pleased with the support of the new legislative members who took strong positions in support of business and economic growth. If we are to continue to grow Oklahoma, create the jobs needed to improve the economy and provide the support needed for business expansion, business interests and job creation must stay at the forefront of the legislative dialogue,” said Winchester.

Senate members receiving perfect scores from REID are Speaker Pro-Tempore Mike Schulz (R-Altus), Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma City), Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville), Tom Dugger (R-Stillwater), A.J. Griffin (R-Guthrie), Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle), Adam Pugh (R-Edmond), Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee), Wayne Shaw (R-Grove), Gary Stanislawski (R-Tulsa), and Roger Thompson (R-Okemah).

House members receiving perfect scores are House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka), Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon), Josh Cockroft (R-Tecumseh), Avery Frix (R-Muskogee), Elise Hall (R-Oklahoma City), Dell Kerbs (R-Shawnee), Randy McDaniel (R-Edmond), Glen Mulready (R-Tulsa), Casey Murdock (R-Felt), Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa), Steve Vaughan (R-Ponca City), and Kevin West (R-Moore).

It is interesting to note that all of this group are Republicans. It is also interesting that none of this group received a perfect score on the 2017 Oklahoma Conservative Index published by the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper (see our summer edition, or go to our website: www.oklahomaconstitution.com). In fact, all of those with perfect scores on the RIED Report can be characterized as being RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). In the Senate, Schulz’s Conservative Index score this year was 25%, Bice 10%, Daniels 50%, Dugger 20%, Griffin 19%, Paxton 20%, Pugh 30%, Sharp20%, Shaw 10% and Thompson 13%. It was the same story in the House. Speaker McCall scored only 13%, Baker 20%, Cockroft 10%, Frix 10%, Hall 13%, Kerbs 10%, McDaniel 30%, Mulready 20%, Murdock 10%, O’Donnell 16%, Vaughan 10%, and West 20%.

The RIED Report claims to “create a profile of each legislator’s individual voting record for bills dealing with business, industry, job creation and economic growth issues deemed important by the private sector.” Significantly, RIED makes no claim to support the concept of free enterprise, leading to the charge by many legislators that the Index actually measures support for big business interests instead. In fact, many of the legislative votes used for the RIED Report appear to be what many refer to as “corporate welfare,” or the favoring of big business interests with tax credits or other such subsidies. It is very difficult for the average citizen to make an informed judgment as to what the scores actually mean, other than support for big business interests.

Interestingly, two of the ten bills included on the Oklahoma Conservative Index were among the 14 bills that RIED says it utilized to compile its ratings. However, RIED’s position on the bills was the opposite of that of the Oklahoma Conservative Index. RIED supported both bills.

House Bill 2131, the Oklahoma Economic Development Act of 2017, resurrected a previous program which had sunset. It provides for the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department to offer inducements in the form of sales tax credits to companies for creating or expanding tourism attractions in the state. The available credit amount is between 10 to 25 percent of the approved costs for a project, depending on the amount of qualified expenditures by the company for the project. The measure includes a $15 million annual cap for credits provided by the act. This measure disrupts the free enterprise system by subsidizing favored businesses over their competitors, while diverting sales tax revenue collected from taxpayers to go to the business rather than state coffers.

HB 1845 brings Oklahoma into compliance with the federal Real ID Act and increases driver’s license fees. Civil libertarians say the REAL ID Act is a further intrusion of the federal government into citizens’ lives, and raise the specter of a nationwide database of personal information. They are particularly concerned about the provision requiring the state IDs to include high-resolution photos and fingerprints for potential biometric identification. The bill creates a two-tiered system of Oklahoma ID cards and driver’s licenses – one card that complies with the Real ID Act and one that doesn’t. Oklahomans may choose a non-compliant license, but a Real ID-compliant card may be needed to board commercial aircraft as early as 2018. The cost of all ID cards and licenses, including noncompliant versions, was increased by $5. A common driver’s license, known as a Class D license, will now cost $38.50.

It is also interesting to compare the scores of the most conservative legislators the RIED scores. Three legislators (two in the House and one in the Senate) received perfect 100% conservative ratings on the Oklahoma Conservative Index this year: Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill), Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie), and Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow). RIED’s scores for these legislators were Hardin 41%, Murphey 51%, and Dahm 41%. RIED termed these as “failing scores” on their scorecard. In fact, all eight legislators who made the “Top Conservative Legislators” list of the Oklahoma Conservative Index, received “failing scores” from RIED.

RIED was founded in 1997 by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the Tulsa Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce. Currently, Greg Love, President of Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores is RIED board chairman. Other officers of note include Larry Nichols of Devon Energy which built the tallest building in Oklahoma City for its headquarters, and Clayton Bennett of Dorchester Capital, and who is also chairman of the ownership group for the Oklahoma City Thunder, an NBA franchise. The complete 2017 RIED Report is available at www.riedreport.com.

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