The McCarville Report
Category archives for: Politics

Handful of House Staffers Get Pay Raise

The Oklahoma House has given 14 of its employees a pay raise since January 1, 2018, totaling nearly $127,000. The Tulsa World’s Barbara Hoberock writes a spokesman for the House said the raises were necessary because those staffers have been paid below market value, and it has become difficult to keep experienced staff from going to higher paying jobs.

Read the Tulsa World story here.

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Cornett Praises Step Up Oklahoma, Doesn’t Support Tax Increases

Oklahoma City Mayor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mick Cornett praises the civic mindedness of the Step Up Oklahoma group, but stops short of endorsing the tax increases contained in the group’s plan. The Oklahoman’s Chris Casteel writes Cornett doesn’t want people to think his first instinct is to raise taxes when a budget problem exists.

Read The Oklahoman story here.

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Powell Calls for Incentive Reductions, Agency Consolidation

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Chris Powell believes the Legislature has yet to put a serious effort into prioritizing spending in state government. He spoke with voters on Monday and pointed out little action has been taken on recommendations by the Incentive Evaluation Commission. Powell also noted the work of finding and eliminating wasteful incentives has yet to be finished.

“We have close to half a billion dollars in subsidies, exemptions, and incentives going to a variety of special interests,” said Powell, “surely it would not be a disaster to end some of that.”

Powell also said that in her time in office, Governor Fallin and the Legislature have failed to implement substantial reduction, consolidation or elimination of the 231 state agencies.

“Gov. Fallin repeatedly promised to not raise taxes and to ‘right-size’ state government,” Powell said, “and even claimed to have provided a list of ‘efficiencies’ to legislative leaders at the beginning of the first special session last year.  But one the one occasion when the Legislature did pass a package of targeted cuts, she vetoed all 49 of them.”

“Everyone wants core services funded,” Powell explained, “but so many groups and individuals think raising taxes is necessary only because neither the Legislature nor the Governor have tried to meaningfully reduce spending on crony capitalist incentives or less important parts of state government.  Voters should demand that the elected officials of the two establishment parties make a serious effort to scrutinize state spending, and look elsewhere for political leadership if the demand isn’t met.”

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Lankford Hopes Work on DACA, Immigration Reform Can Proceed after Shutdown

Legislation, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and immigration reform, on which U.S. Senator James Lankford has been working was at the center of the federal government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a tepid promise that DACA would be moved to early February for consideration as the Senate Democrats relented their holdout. It is expected to be considered about the same time the just passed continuing resolution to reopen the government will expire.

Lankford hopes Congress will see this as an opportunity to get work done.

“I’m pleased that Senate Democrats relented and finally agreed to reopen the government. Today, they voted for the exact offer we extended on Friday night before the shutdown. This all could have been avoided. Now is the time for this Senate to take up hard issues and begin debating and voting again. This is a unique opportunity to finally address some of our numerous immigration problems, including border security. I look forward to getting this important work done in the days ahead.”

Lankford has introduced legislation to address DACA and immigration last year; the SUCCEED Act and the SECURE Act.

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Teacher Pay, Education Funding Cited as Primary Reasons Oklahoma Teachers Leave the Classroom

The two main reasons why Oklahoma teachers are leaving the classroom in a new survey are the same as we’ve heard anecdotally for a while; teacher pay and education funding. The Oklahoma State Department of Education released the findings on Monday which also indicated a way out of the teacher shortage.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister pointed out that 31 percent of the respondents indicated they would likely return to the classroom if teacher pay were increased.

“As our state continues suffering the effects of an unprecedented teacher shortage, Oklahoma cannot afford to ignore the results of this survey,” Hofmeister said. “Pay is no cure-all to staving off this shortage, but without regionally competitive compensation, we are trying to win a home run contest with one arm held behind our back.”

The Teacher Shortage Task Force recommended performing the survey to ask inactive teachers who have active certificates why they left the classroom and other related questions. The Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC) funded the survey. It hired Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates to conduct the questioning this fall.

“It was important to partner with OSDE on this project, which has important implications for all education stakeholders,” said Brent Bushey, executive director of OPSRC. “Funding a survey of this scope would have been a challenge for OSDE, and we wanted to step up to make it happen.”

One of the more troubling findings is that special education and secondary teachers were the largest percentage of those who said pay was a primary reason for leaving.

“We have raised academic standards and expectations to give our students a competitive edge. We have a strong eight-year plan in place for education, but all of it depends on having well-supported teachers for our kids,” Hofmeister said. “It is also alarming that our special education teachers are particularly pay sensitive, which does not bode well for serving our students with the greatest needs.”

It also seems younger teachers were more concerned about pay than older teachers. The survey found 48 percent of respondents 18-24, 37 percent of those 24-24 and 36 percent of those 35-44 would return to the classroom if teacher pay was increased. A total of 31 percent of all demographics said they would return to teaching in Oklahoma if the pay was better.

“While the survey reveals that a number of factors attribute to the teacher shortage,” said Hofmeister, “it also confirms that increasing teacher pay is the single most effective first step to reducing the crisis and perhaps even convincing teachers who have left the field to return.”

You can download the Teacher Survey Report here.

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OCPA: Celebrate Medicaid Diversity

By OCPA President Jonathan Small

Is diversity a good thing? Last week, the Trump administration embraced diversity in how states run medical welfare programs. It’s a smart move because it offers a chance to get smarter about how we help the poor.

We learn, after all, when we watch different courses of action play out. Instead of being told what someone assumes will work, we see what actually happens. This way of doing public policy is built into our country’s constitutional design.

For the first 140 years of American history, most governing was left to the states. The faraway national government managed foreign trade, kept up the military, and refereed disputes among the states. Day-to-day governing happened in state capitols, county courthouses, and city halls.

This allowed diversity and what scientists call tight feedback loops. If a policy didn’t work, it was usually pretty obvious – at least compared to what would happen if the same thing was done from far away and within a massive federal bureaucracy.

The new Medicaid policy is a shift toward this kind of state-based innovation. It also points Medicaid back to its roots as a welfare program for people who were both poor and either elderly, children, or disabled.

The Trump administration “will support state efforts to test incentives that make participation in work or other community engagement a requirement for continued Medicaid eligibility” for able-bodied, working-age adults. “Such programs should be designed to promote better mental, physical, and emotional health,” the administration’s guidance letter says, and “may also … be designed to help individuals and families rise out of poverty.”

Oklahoma spends more than $5 billion per year on Medicaid from a mix of state and federal funds. One-quarter of Oklahoma’s population is on medical welfare. In Oklahoma, Medicaid covers 57% of all births, and up to 72% of all children are on Medicaid at some point in their first five years. Like every other state, the share of our state revenues going to Medicaid has increased dramatically over the last 15 years. This rapid growth puts pressure on funding for schools, roads, and public safety.

States are already innovating. Several have improved audits to better eliminate fraud – Arkansas did this and removed 80,000 ineligible people from its Medicaid rolls last year. An audit in Oregon found at least 50,000 ineligible people signed up there. Based on successes in other states, Medicaid audits could save Oklahoma $85.6 million annually.

The new policy is simply an open door. Each state will have more choices about how to design medical welfare, and we get to learn from them all.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).

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Cole: Shutdowns Never Work

By Congressman Tom Cole

At 11:59 PM EST on January 19, 2018, the United States Senate refused to take up a spending bill which would have kept the government open until February 16, 2018. This bill not only would have kept the federal government open and running efficiently, it would have included many provisions to support people’s health insurance and protect our national security. The legislation included a six year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which provides medical coverage for nine million children across the nation, including 187,000 children in Oklahoma, 25,000 of whom reside in the Fourth District. There are also provisions that would delay Obamacare taxes on many people’s health insurance, and a delay on an Obamacare tax on medical devices. Significantly, the spending bill provided billions of dollars to fund our military, including troops’ pay and funding for important missile defense programs, which are critical during a time of global tensions with North Korea.

Some people have called this the “Trump Shutdown.” Others have called this the “Schumer Shutdown.” It ought to be called the “Senate Shutdown.” The fact of the matter is that the House passed the spending bill by a vote of 230-197. The same measure passed in the Senate with a simple majority vote of 50-49. Because of the arcane filibuster rules of the Senate, a mere 41 Senators can give the minority party the ability to grind the work of the Senate to a halt. President Trump has pointed out that this problematic rule has made it extremely difficult to govern. In the House, a simple majority is sufficient to proceed, which is why it is able to move legislation quickly. At present, the House has passed over 400 pieces of legislation in this Congressional session, of which only 67 have been passed by the Senate. A majority of legislation is sitting in the Senate and has yet to be acted upon. This is due in no small measure to the obscure Senate rules that allow 41 Senators to prevent a vote from even being held.

While only Senators have the right to change the Senate rules, it is my hope that after this regrettable episode of a government shutdown, the Senate will reconsider the rules regarding cloture and filibuster. Under the pressure of events, the Senate has changed its rules before. The Democratic Senate lowered the threshold for Presidential appointments to a simple majority during the Obama Administration. The Republican Senate followed suit as well, in respect to the nominations to the Supreme Court. It is time for the Senate to apply the same standard to other legislation, especially appropriations bills, which are critical to keep the government running. The truth is, as long as the filibuster rule is in place, a minority will be able to shut down the government whenever they would like. This tactic is putting self-proclaimed prerogatives of the Senate ahead of the good of the American people. The filibuster is not in the constitution or in the legal framework that dictates how legislation is passed.

In this manufactured crisis, I am proud of both the President and the Speaker for their refusal to negotiate with Senate Democrats until they voted to reopen the government. Sadly, since 2013, both sides have tried to achieve their political objectives by shutting down the government. Each time, it failed. Those who engage in this tactic have been roundly condemned. It is my hope that both sides have learned their lesson. You cannot win political disputes by punishing the American people. Government shutdowns have never worked, and they never will.

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Legislators Consider Income Tax Changes in Step Up Oklahoma Plan

The Step Up Oklahoma Plan continues to dominate talks at the Capitol including how to restructure the individual income tax code while protecting low income earners. The Oklahoman’s Randy Ellis writes it is estimated that more than have of individual tax filers would experience either a decrease or no change in their income tax liability. However, the plan is also designed to raise an additional $144 million in state revenue through other changes.

Read The Oklahoman story here.

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Report Indicates Oklahoma Among Most Affected States in Federal Government Shutdown

A WalletHub report indicates Oklahoma is one of the top ten states affected by the federal government shutdown. The personal-finance website ranks Oklahoma as the eighth most affected state, with the District of Columbia as the most affected on the list. The least affected state is Minnesota.

WalletHub used six key metrics to generate the impact list. Those metrics include the state’s share of federal jobs, federal contract dollars per capita, percentage of children covered under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), small business lending, real estate as percentage of gross state product and access to national parks.

Oklahoma has the third highest percentage of children covered by CHIP.

Oklahoma seems to be an outlier in the report. WalletHub found that red states are generally less affected by the government shutdown than blue states. Of course, Oklahoma is known as one of the reddest of the red states when it comes to national politics.

The full WalletHub report can be found at this link.

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Lepak Files “Strong Governor” Legislation

More elements of the Step Up Oklahoma plan are surfacing in legislation filed last week. Rep. Mark Lepak filed four measures which re-structures parts of state government to give the Governor’s Office more responsibility over the executive branch, reduces the number of statewide elected officials, and creates a governor/lt. governor joint ticket on the ballot.

House Bills 3208 and 3209 would consolidate authority in the governor to appoint and remove directors at most of the largest state agencies. Those bills would leave existing boards and commissions in advisory capacities.

“I’ve long believed our executive branch can’t be very productive the way it is organized, which is evident in the problems that were recently disclosed in a couple of our state agencies,” said Lepak. “The ‘weak governor’ model in Oklahoma constrains leadership and almost eliminates the ability to deliver satisfactory results within the state’s bureaucracy. We need a ‘strong governor’ model, where the governor is a true CEO and can provide leadership, oversight and accountability so that we can ultimately get control of, and drive better results in, agencies.”

Lepak said that the strong governor model will strengthen the Legislature as well by ensuring a single elected individual to hold accountable for agency activity.

“The way we are structured today, our part time Legislature has a hard time holding anyone accountable – even with its ‘power of the purse,’ said Lepak. “Agency heads are generally answerable only to boards whose members, once appointed, aren’t answerable to anyone and have terms extending across gubernatorial terms. To the surprise of almost every citizen I’ve ever talked to, the governor has very little authority to run all those agencies, ultimately measured by having the ability to hire and fire agency heads. These bills change that paradigm for the largest state agencies.”

He has also filed House Joint Resolution 1047 and House Joint Resolution 1048. HJR 1047 asks voters to change the Oklahoma constitution to create a governor/lt. governor joint ticket giving the power to the gubernatorial candidate to pick his or her running mate. HJR 1048 asks voters to give the governor the power to appoint the State Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Labor Commissioner.

“The citizens of Oklahoma just want government that works without waste,” said Lepak. “We need one point of accountability in the executive branch – a true governor with real authority. And the governor, regardless of party affiliation, needs to have his or her team of executives in place who are all on the same page, reflecting the policies upon which he or she was elected.

“We often talk about bringing business practices to government, but in what business do we hire 11 nearly co-equal leaders, with none accountable to the other? The fundamental problem we need to solve is that everyone is in charge, and therefore, no one is in charge. With 11 officeholders elected statewide, all running separate campaigns, perhaps espousing different priorities and policies, what do we expect?”

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