In addition to naming a new secretary of veterans affairs today, Governor Fallin announced several other actions:
Brig. Gen. Robbie L. Asher will be named Oklahoma adjutant general on February 2 and will command the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard. He succeeds Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, who will become the governor’s secretary of veterans affairs on February 2.
Deering will replace Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, who the governor has named to a new position of governor’s liaison for veterans affairs. Gen. Aragon will be responsible for developing collaborative efforts for all Oklahoma agencies to better integrate services for Oklahoma’s veterans and their families.
“I appreciate the service of Gen. Deering and his leadership at the Oklahoma National Guard,” said Fallin. “I will continue to rely on his passion for those who have served in the military as secretary of veterans affairs.
“Meanwhile, Gen. Aragon will occupy a new position, helping to integrate services and create better cooperation between the ODVA and other state agencies. No one has worked harder for Oklahoma’s veterans than Rita, and I am excited she will be continuing to serve them in this new role.”
Finally, the governor acted to appoint three new members to the Oklahoma Veterans Commission. Previously, the commission was made up of representatives of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans. Fallin today added representatives of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the National Guard Association of Oklahoma. She also appointed a fourth veteran who will serve as an at-large member.
“These new appointees will broaden the scope of experiences on the Oklahoma Veterans Commission and ensure the state is providing the best services to Oklahoma’s veterans,” said Fallin. “These are men and women who risked their lives and in many cases sacrificed their health to serve this country. We owe them nothing less than the best.”
More on the Appointees
Brig. Gen. Robbie L. Asher will be named Oklahoma adjutant general on February 2 and will command the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard. He has previously served as the primary assistant to the Adjutant General, with overall responsibility and oversight of more than 1,000 Oklahoma Army National Guardsmen.
Gen. Asher also served on active duty in the 101st Airborne Division as an enlisted member for two years followed by five years enlisted service in the Oklahoma Army National Guard.
Upon commissioning, Gen. Asher served in a variety of infantry, anti-armor, and personnel assignments. He commanded the First Battalion 279th Infantry prior to his selection as Deputy Commander, 45th Infantry Brigade. He deployed with his brigade to Afghanistan in 2003.
He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Oklahoma, a master’s of science in natural and applied science from Oklahoma State University and served as a senior service fellow for the United States Army War College at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas.
Maj. Gen. Myles Deering will step down from his current post as Oklahoma adjutant general on February 2 and will become Governor Fallin’s secretary of veterans affairs, a cabinet level position.
He began his military career in 1971, and has served in the Oklahoma Army National Guard since 1977 and as Oklahoma’s adjutant general since 2009, appointed by Governor Brad Henry.
During his military career, Gen. Deering has served in a wide variety of areas including in 2008 when he commanded troops for the Multi-National Force in Iraq. Prior to being named adjutant general in 2009, Gen. Deering served as director of manpower and personnel at the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C.
He has received numerous military honors including the Bronze Star Medal, the Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters and Legion of Merit. In 2005, Gen. Deering led 2,500 Oklahoma National Guard troops during Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. For his actions was given the Hero Award from the Oklahoma Red Cross.
Gen. Deering received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in natural and applied sciences from Oklahoma State University. He is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic and Advance Courses, the Ordnance Officer Advance Course, the US Army Command and General Staff Course, and the United States Army War College.
Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon will step down as secretary of veterans affairs on February 2 and become the governor’s liaison for veterans affairs. She previously served as the commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard and as the Air National Guard assistant to the deputy chief of staff of Staff Manpower and Personnel at the Pentagon, where she was the senior Air National Guard officer responsible for military and civilian personnel management, education, training and resource allocation.
Gen. Aragon was the first woman in the United States to command a state’s Air National Guard.
She received the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
In addition to her military career, Gen. Aragon has served as an elementary school teacher and an elementary school principal. She is the first woman to serve as Oklahoma secretary of military and veterans affairs.
Ivenhoe “Tom” Richey has been appointed to the Oklahoma Veterans Commission as a representative of Paralyzed Veterans of America. He is replacing Richard Putnam, whose term expired. Richey is a founding member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Chapter 32 and a founding member of Okie Spokesmen Wheelchair Athletic Association.
Larry Van Schuyver has been appointed to the Oklahoma Veterans Commission as a representative of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He is replacing Tommy Howell. Van Schuyver is the current chairman of the Oklahoma Wounded Warriors Support team.
Everett “Lloyd” Smithson has been appointed to the Oklahoma Veterans Commission as a representative of the National Guard Association of Oklahoma. He is replacing the late Darrell McGee. Smithson served in the Oklahoma Air National Guard for 36 years before retiring. Smithson currently works as a survivor outreach services coordinator at the Survivor Outreach Services Program in Oklahoma City.
John Carter has been appointed to the Oklahoma Veterans Commission as an at-large member replacing Wesley Benge, whose term expired. He currently serves as the chairman of the Veterans Corner Public Relations Building Committee. Carter previously served 20 years as a carrier pilot in the United States Navy.
Oklahomans will benefit from much needed tax relief in 2016 after the vote by the Board of Equalization that the revenue triggers in a bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law last session have been met.
With dozens of legislators in attendance, the board approved a motion to certify the income tax cut trigger provisions of Senate Bill 1246. SB 1246 requires a comparison between Fiscal Year 2016 estimated general revenue to the Fiscal Year 2014 certified general revenue total. Because projected FY 16 revenue is $60.7 million more than FY 14 revenues, the personal income tax rate will be reduced from 5.25 percent to 5 percent in tax year 2016.
“I thank Governor Fallin for encouraging legislators to attend the Board of Equalization meeting to learn more about the certification process,” said House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman, R-Fairview. “I am pleased to know that Oklahomans will get to keep more of their hard-earned money through a much deserved tax cut that will put more money into our economy.”
The estimates approved by the board project revenues that could be enough to also trigger a deposit of almost $37.8 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Despite this, the Legislature could face budgetary challenges as the projections approved today are 0.3 percent or $25.6 million less than what was certified for last year’s budget. The recent drop in oil prices, as well as lower prices in agricultural commodity markets could continue to put pressure on state revenues.
“The Oklahoma economy is stable, and I am hopeful the current geopolitical circumstances that are driving down the price of oil are temporary,” said Hickman. “Even though our economy is strong, all entities which receive state tax dollars should be making preparations now in their current budgets for fewer dollars in next year’s budget, just like Oklahoma families and businesses do every day.”
Attorney General’s Office
Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced the Workers’ Compensation, Social Security and Insurance Fraud Unit of the AG’s prevented more than $16.8 million in fraudulent federal social security benefits payments during the 2014 federal fiscal year.
The unit conducted 223 investigations this year. Out of those, 126 cases resulted in Social Security fraud charges saving more than $10 million in Social Security funds from being wrongfully disbursed along with more than $6 million in other federal assistance.
“Keeping a careful watch over taxpayer dollars is important for many reasons. First, it ensures taxpayer dollars are not wasted and are available for use on other core functions of government like public safety, education and transportation. Equally as important, though, is that preventing fraudulent benefits payments ensure resources are there to help those with legitimate claims,” Attorney General Scott Pruitt said. “Our office will continue to aggressively investigate and hold accountable those who would seek to defraud the Social Security program for their personal gain.
The Workers’ Compensation, Social Security and Insurance Fraud Unit is led by Assistant Attorney General George Burnett and investigates and prosecutes fraud on the part of claimants, doctors, attorneys and insurance companies. The unit also provides education and training about workers’ compensation fraud. To report workers’ compensation, social security or insurance fraud contact the Attorney General’s Office at (405) 521-3921 or visit the AG’s website at www.ok.gov/oag.
Photograph by Malia Bennett
Below are statements from officials at the Office of Management and Enterprise Services in response to the Supreme Court’s action today upholding House Joint Resolution 1033, which provides $120 million in bond funding to begin restoring the State Capitol:
“We’re thrilled the court made the wise, easy choice to uphold funding for this critical project. I’m looking forward to personally welcoming Mr. Fent and all Oklahomans to their wonderfully restored State Capitol once this project is complete.” – OMES Director Preston L. Doerflinger
“The challenge caused only a slight delay of just a few weeks because we continued doing all the work we could, other than issuing bonds, while the court conducted its review. Exterior work should begin in the spring, just a few weeks later than initially thought. Interior work was unaffected by this review and should begin in 2016 as planned all along.” – State Capitol Project Manager Trait Thompson
Office of Management and Enterprise Services
After four months of consistent growth, General Revenue Fund (GRF) receipts flattened somewhat in November, with collections totaling slightly less than the official estimate and prior year.
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 state budget. GRF collections, reported by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), 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 prior to rebates, refunds and mandatory apportionments.
November General Revenue Fund (GRF) collections of $382.5 million were $2.2 million, or 0.6 percent, below the official estimate upon which the FY 2015 appropriated state budget is based and $0.6 million, or 0.2 percent, below prior year collections.
GRF collections exceeded prior year collections in each of the four months of FY 15 before November and beat the official estimate in three of the four months prior to November.
“An accounting oddity contributed to softer collections in November, but we are also likely seeing preliminary effects of lower oil prices,” said Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston L. Doerflinger.
Total GRF collections for the first five months of FY 15 were $2.236 billion, which is $80.3 million, or 3.7 percent, above the estimate and $140.9 million, or 6.7 percent, above the prior year.
“Time will tell what effect the oil price environment has on state finances,” Doerflinger said. “There are tradeoffs for tax collections since lower prices at the pump can put more money in the hands of consumers to spend on other things, which could boost sales tax collections. But if oil prices cause the energy sector to shrink, Oklahoma’s economy will certainly feel that, and state finances will, too.”
The price of West Texas Intermediate Crude at Cushing closed Wednesday at $60.94 a barrel. By comparison, the FY 15 appropriated state budget was built using an assumed average oil price of $86.99 a barrel.
The state Board of Equalization meets Dec. 18 to make a preliminary estimate on revenues available for appropriation for the FY 16 appropriated budget.
“The meeting will provide a closer examination of the effect of oil prices on collections and the first real look at resources for the next state budget,” Doerflinger said.
Doerflinger is director of OMES, which issues the monthly GRF reports.
Major tax categories in November contributed the following amounts to the GRF:
- Total income tax collections of $120.9 million were $6.8 million, or 6 percent, above the estimate and $5.4 million, or 4.2 percent, below the prior year.
Individual income tax collections of $120.9 million were $9.8 million, or 8.8 percent, above the estimate and $4.2 million, or 3.3 percent, below the prior year.
Corporate income tax collections made no contribution to the GRF for the month due to more than $16 million in refunds.
- Sales tax collections of $174.1 million were $5.7 million, or 3.4 percent, above the estimate and $11.4 million, or 7 percent, above the prior year.
- Gross production tax collections of $23.6 million were $2.1 million, or 9.7 percent, above the estimate and $2.7 million, or 12.7 percent, above the prior year.
Gas collections of contributed $8 million were $6.9 million, or 46.5 percent, below the estimate and $2.4 million, or 23.1 percent, below prior year collections.
Oil collections of $15.6 million were $9 million, or 136.3 percent, above the estimate and $5.1 million, or 47.8 percent, above prior year.
- Motor vehicle tax collections of $3.7 million were $19 million, or 83.8 percent, below the estimate and $26.8 million, or 87.9 percent, below the prior year.
Motor vehicle collections were skewed because of an accounting adjustment made by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Taking the adjustment into account, actual collections from motor vehicle taxes would have missed the estimate by $8.6 million, or 37.9 percent and been below the prior year by about $6.3 million, or 3 percent.
- Other revenue collections of $60.2 million were $2.3 million, or 4 percent, above the estimate and $17.4 million or 40.5 percent, above the prior year.
Monthly revenue tables are available on the OMES website: http://www.ok.gov/OSF/News/November_2014_Financial_Report_Data_Tables.html
Rep. Jason Murphey
There have been 10,211 votes in the House of Representatives since I became a member of the Legislature. The most important vote I cast was on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2011.
Though none of us knew it at the time, the Oklahoma House took action on a proposal which, in a dramatic twist of fate, could have killed part of what most would now agree is the most significant legal challenge to the national health care overreach.
When the federal government approved the national health care law, it envisioned state governments carrying out the implementation of new health care insurance exchanges. In January 2012, one of the proposal’s leading architects Jonathan Gruber described how the federal government incentivized the states to carry out the program through the issuance of federal tax credits in the states which agreed to participate.
Oklahoma could have easily been one of those states.
In 2011, the federal government offered Oklahoma 54.5 million dollars to participate. This fact joined an array of other arguments for why Oklahoma should quickly pass the plan. Wouldn’t it be irresponsible to turn down all that money? Shouldn’t Oklahoma control the health exchange instead of the federal government? If Oklahoma didn’t take quick action, we risked not only losing that money, but also control, and unless we complied, Oklahoma would be powerless to oppose the creation of the federally run program in Oklahoma. We had to act immediately!
Purusant to the strategy I delineated in my article last week (which you may read at hd31.org/661), I wasn’t fond of being forced to take immediate action. I don’t think Oklahoma should act on the federal government’s timetable and I made that case in defending my “No” vote.
Oklahoma must never become positioned into being easily and quickly bought off by the federal government.
While the proposal did pass the House that day, it passed by a margin of only a single vote. That close vote sent a strong message and a few days later the President Pro-Tem of the Oklahoma Senate Brian Bingman announced the proposal was dead.
Many other states would soon follow suit and today, more than half the states are not participating. Despite this fact, the federal government and IRS have not followed the provisions of the health care law which limit the law’s tax credit provisions to just those states which chose to participate.
In September 2012, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt entered the comments made by Jonathan Gruber and Oklahoma’s refusal to participate in the plan as facts to support Oklahoma’s lawsuit against the proposal on the grounds that the federal government is misusing the tax credits in violation of the law. A federal judge agreed with Pruitt who asked that the Supreme Court include Oklahoma’s successful case as it considers two other challenges to the national health care proposal.
The inclusion of Oklahoma’s case should bolster what many are now calling the most significant legal challenge to the national health care proposal.
Had Oklahoma policy makers acted hastily and taken the federal government’s money in 2011, not only would other states have come under pressure to follow Oklahoma’s example, but what may become a key component of the challenge to the national health care law would have never materialized.
Governor Fallin today announced the appointment of Leigh Gaddis to the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission. Gaddis, the first woman appointed to the Wildlife Conservation Commission, will replace the late Harland Stonecipher, pending confirmation from the Oklahoma Senate.
Gaddis, of Ada, owns and also serves as a financial adviser at Gaddis & Gaddis Wealth Management, a financial planning and investment firm.
“Leigh Gaddis is an avid outdoor enthusiast and a leader within the community,” said Fallin. “She brings a unique background to the commission as well as a passion for hunting, fishing and the outdoors.”
Gaddis is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association; a member of Safari Club International; annual participant in the Oklahoma City Gun Club’s Women on Target Shooting Clinic; and helped host the Governor’s Big Buck Hunt in 2011.
“I am excited for this opportunity to serve on the Wildlife Conservation Commission and I appreciate Governor Fallin’s appointment,” said Gaddis. “I look forward to working on wildlife management issues as well as overseeing the state’s hunting and fishing regulations while protecting Oklahoma’s natural resources and beauty.”
Gaddis currently serves as a mentor on the Ada High School Student Mentoring Program; as a member of the President’s Circle at East Central University; in the Circle of Friends at Mercy Hospital, Ada; and as an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Ada. She is also a 2011 graduate of Leadership Ada and currently serves on the planning committee.
The eight-member Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. They serve in an unpaid capacity as the department’s advisory, administrative and policy-making body.
Gaddis received a bachelor’s degree in biology education from East Central University.
She and her husband, Roger, have four sons.