State Auditor Gary Jones has released a Performance Audit Report of the Department of Corrections (DOC).
Governor Mary Fallin requested the audit following the resignation of former DOC Director Justin Jones.
“The audit includes 10 recommendations to help DOC reduce costs, improve efficiencies, and better manage its inmate population,” Jones said. “You can’t overlook the fact its funding is down while the number of inmates it houses is up.”
The audit also includes four prospective areas for further study including the impact of factors beyond DOC control, alternative funding support for a new Offender Management System, and additional analysis of medical trends.
“As the population continues to age, medical costs will continue to rise,” Jones said. “From 2010 to 2013, DOC spent $135 million for healthcare costs including medical and mental health treatment, medical supplies and equipment. More than 11 percent of all expenditures by DOC goes to healthcare.”
The audit covered a five year span from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2013. Financial data used in the report included FY10-FY13.
“We recommend DOC’s governing board continue its effort to increase its financial oversight of the agency including obtaining additional financial reports from its chief financial officer,” Jones said. “We believe an audit committee would be beneficial in assisting the board to ensure accountability and provide financial oversight.”
Increased involvement by the DOC board points to governance issues the State Auditor believes will better safeguard the expenditure of state funds and lead to improved management of limited resources.
The full audit report is available online at the State Auditor’s website: www.sai.ok.gov/Search%20Reports/database/DOCWebFinal.pdf
A few weeks ago I wrote about the recent success of three important government transparency proposals which will go into law this year.
One of these bills, Senate Bill 1497, allows an aggrieved person to recover legal fees for taking legal action when a government entity refuses to follow Oklahoma’s open meeting law.
Until now, a plaintiff may recover legal fees when denied open records from a government agency, but not when denied access to what should have been an open meeting of that same agency.
SB 1497 enables the recovery of legal fees in both instances, and represents one of the most important in our array of government modernization and transparency efforts for this year.
Without this reform, citizens didn’t have the same incentive to hold their elected officials accountable and ensure the government follows the law.
Suppose a government entity either meets inappropriately, or a majority of the members of a governing board talk amongst each other about an issue before a public meeting.
Perhaps a member of the public becomes aware of this fact. He can seek help from law enforcement but in all too many cases law enforcement officials are extremely hesitant to act against other government officials even at times when the evidence of a breach of the law has become quite obvious.
The citizen’s next recourse is to file a civil action in district court to declare the government agency’s illegal actions to be void. That’s not likely to occur because few relish the idea of both going against a taxpayer-funded attorney in court and paying the legal fees to bring this action.
It requires courage and principle to take on a government in court in an attempt to hold them accountable to the law.
In early 2013, State Senator David Holt and I received correspondence from two individuals who had spent a significant amount of money pursuing an alleged violation of the open meeting law. One might think that the adjudication of an alleged violation of such a simple law could be easily and quickly resolved.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The litigation has taken years as the government entity in question had somehow convinced a trial judge that a civil case couldn’t even be brought in the first place. This bad decision would be subsequently overturned on appeal but the result was years of legal expense and what appears to be a clear attempt of a taxpayer-funded government simply trying to wear out and outspend conscientious local residents who just want the law to be followed.
There are remarkably few who are willing to spend their own time and resources attempting to uphold the law and the input of these two individuals was well received.
Acting on their concern, State Representative Elise Hall, who has been one of the Legislature’s foremost advocates for modernization and transparency, signed on as the House author of the reform with Holt serving as the Senate author. Both Holt and Hall filed the legislation, the House version of which was quickly advanced out of the Government Modernization Committee and the Senate version which was inevitably successful will go into law on November 1st.
Governor Fallin today announced the appointment of Patricia “Pattye” High to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
Her appointment will take effect Monday. She will replace the late Currie Ballard and will serve the remainder of his term, which expires in January.
High, of Oklahoma City, is an attorney with her own law firm. She handles mostly civil cases and also has been appointed in Oklahoma County District Court to serve as a guardian for infants, minors and others in family domestic cases.
High previously served as a senior criminal felony prosecutor in the Oklahoma County district attorney’s office from 1989 to 2007. Her duties included being the child abuse and sexual assault division chief and serving as special prosecutor in death penalty cases. She also worked in the district attorney’s office that serves Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties.
High also served on the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training as a certified instructor of sexual assault investigation, First Amendment law, use of force, rules of evidence, and courtroom testifying for police officers.
“Patricia High is an accomplished attorney with nearly 25 years of experience in both the public and private sectors,” said Fallin. “She is passionate about criminal justice and her many years of service reflect that. I believe she will serve on the pardon and parole board with an eye towards considering the rights of victims as well as potential parolees.”
In 2006, High received recognition as prosecutor of the year by the Oklahoma Gang Investigators Association.
High earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of Oklahoma.
Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman has chosen his appointees to the State Capitol Repair Expenditure Oversight Committee.
On Wednesday, Bingman announced that Sens. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, Corey Brooks, R-Washington, and Susan Paddack, D-Ada, will serve on the nine-member, bipartisan committee mandated under House Joint Resolution 1033, the legislation approved last May authorizing a $120 million bond issue to pay for critical repairs to the Capitol building.
The panel is charged with determining the scope and order of repair and restoration work. According to HJR 1033, the group must hold its first meeting no later than September 6, 2014, and has until December 31, 2014, to deliver a preliminary plan to the Director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. The committee’s final plan must be delivered by June 30, 2015.
Jonathan Small, CPA
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
The most recent fiscal year ended on June 30, and the data show that for state government revenues and spending, it’s a time of all-time highs.
Preston Doerflinger, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Finance, Administration, and Information Technology, confirmed this week that the general revenue fund maintained levels from the prior year and exceeded them slightly.
This confirms that, when comparing revenues to the prior year, even when one looks only at the general revenue fund, the claims of a shortfall for government are false.
This is remarkable, considering that hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans experienced increased payroll taxes and federal income taxes, increased health insurance premiums due to Obamacare, new taxes and fees created by Obamacare, cost increases for state and local government, and periods of depressed consumer demand. This is also remarkable considering that state corporate tax collections experienced a long-predicted massive decline because of President Obama’s insistence that tax burdens increase during negotiations at the end of 2012.
Beginning last summer, there was a strong and coordinated campaign by tax consumers and other big-government advocates for massive tax increases on oil and gas production in Oklahoma.
Claims of significantly declining gross production taxes and predictions of declines were cited as a justification for the proposed massive tax increase. Given these dire predictions, a review of gross production tax collections for the general revenue fund is appropriate.
According to Secretary Doerflinger and state records, gross production tax collections for the general revenue fund (without a single statutory change or tax increase) grew $111 million over the prior year, even after the state paid back portions of its interest-free loan from the private sector.
But it’s not just the general revenue fund that has seen growth. According to Secretary Doerflinger and State Treasurer Ken Miller, total state tax collections have set another record. In fact, Miller reported in his recent summary of FY-2014: “Gross receipts to the treasury, a good snapshot of our state’s productivity, incomes, and consumption, are higher than ever before …. In fact, collections have been higher than the same month of the prior year in 45 of the past 51 months, which indicates a steady economic expansion.”
Indeed, even though the state over the last decade eliminated death taxes and cut the top personal income tax rate by 25 percent while increasing the standard deduction and adding a child tax credit for many Oklahomans, even state personal income tax collections are still growing.
According to Miller, “a general reduction in corporate income tax payments moderated a stronger showing in personal income tax collections.”
But it’s not just total state tax collections that have seen growth. Miller recently noted, after comparing appropriations made by the legislature in each of the last two legislative sessions, that state appropriations grew over the prior year. According to records at the Oklahoma House of Representatives, state appropriations made by the legislature for the upcoming fiscal year set a record high.
In summary, based on state records, reports from revenue officials, and actions of state lawmakers, state government is not experiencing a shortfall.
- See more at: http://www.ocpathink.org/articles/2771#sthash.DBTxYh60.dpuf
Traffic on the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s online application system for handgun licenses has more than tripled since media reports about an upcoming change in law, the agency said Friday afternoon.
The OSBI in a news release said 394 people have began applications online since the news reports Tuesday, compared to 130 people during the same three-day span a week ago.
Oklahoma Self-Defense Act gun safety course certifications are a first step toward obtaining a license to conceal or open carry firearms.
Jessica Brown, the OSBI’s public information officer, said the numbers released do not reflect how many applications have been submitted because not all are completed. Some people are browsing, too, she said.
On Nov. 1, a new law stipulates SDA certifications will expire after three years, where previously they had no term limits. The measure means certifications dated Nov. 1, 2011, or earlier will expire at the deadline.
At the end of the fiscal year on June 30, tax collections going to the state’s General Revenue Fund increased by only 0.03 percent compared with the prior year. The total came in at 4.8 percent below estimates. Yet gross collections to the state treasury actually increased $469.3 million year-over-year. How did state officials turn a $469 million increase into flat growth? By diverting more and more money away from the General Revenue Fund, which is the main funding source for the appropriations budget drafted by lawmakers. The amount earmarked for specific uses outside the budget process increased by $102 million. Thanks to earmarks, lawmakers faced a $188 million “shortfall” in a time of record tax collections. The shortfall existed only on paper. It was the product of legislative machinations, not an economic downturn. June’s final revenue numbers are another reminder of the vital need to amend state budgeting methods.
Sunday marks 100 years since officials broke ground on the state Capitol, with the state’s second governor, Democrat Lee Cruce, doing the honors.
Between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., he stuck a pick in the ground at the southwest corner of the property, said Bob Blackburn, Oklahoma Historical Society executive director.
“Thousands of people came that day,” Blackburn said.
State officials on Thursday outlined plans to fix the structure’s crumbling exterior limestone, outdated plumbing, and mechanical and electrical systems, and improve other aspects of the infrastructure.
“It’s ready for another 100 years of service,” said Duane Mass, Capitol architect.
Lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin last session agreed on a $120 million bond issue to make the much-needed repairs. Whether that amount will be enough remains to be seen, officials said.
Within the next six to nine months, officials should have a good understanding about how far the money will go, said Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger.
Work on the outside of the structure is expected to begin by the end of the year or early in 2015, while interior work will begin next year. The project could take up to six years to complete, Doerflinger said.
Barricades were erected in 2011 along the south steps and scaffolding put up to protect visitors from falling limestone.
Mass deemed the outside as one of the most critical problems but noted the building has cast iron pipes that a person can put a finger through and wiring that has no insulation. It also has extensive water damage, he said.
When it was built, it had modern amenities, such as indoor toilets and electric lights, Mass said.
“This building ties us directly to our history in the state of Oklahoma,” said Trait Thompson, project manager.
Thompson vowed that taxpayer money would be spent judiciously and that the historical integrity of the building would be maintained.
Some agencies may have to be moved out of the building, but details on that have yet to be determined, officials said.
The Legislature meets from February through May on the fourth floor in the building.
The building also houses legislative offices, conference rooms and offices for: State Treasurer Ken Miller; Fallin; Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb; Secretary of State Chris Benge; and State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones. It is home to the State Election Board and State Ethics Commission, which have offices in the basement.
The facility is also home to an extensive art collection that continues to grow.
The Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals moved out of the building a few years ago.
“We can’t shut this building down,” Mass said.
Rep. Jason Murphey
Imagine owning a business and entering into a contract with a vendor. As you prepare to sign the contract, the vendor puts forward one final stipulation. He wants you to hire an employee with the sole mission of perpetually negotiating with you to change the terms of the contract to better favor the vendor. You will essentially be paying someone to negotiate on behalf of your counterparty. This makes no sense, and no self-respecting business owner would sign that contract.
Just as this concept isn’t utilized in the business world, it shouldn’t have a home in government either. To that end, state policy appears to prohibit state agencies from using the funding they receive from the Legislature to pay for a lobbyist. This policy reflects an important concept: it’s wrong for government to make you pay the salaries of those who have a vested interest in making you pay even more in taxes or fees.
But at last count, the policy hasn’t kept approximately 23 state government entities from employing professional contract lobbyists. Agencies may hire lobbyists with funds which are not appropriated by the Legislature. The Legislature appropriates less than half the funds spent by state government. This provides many opportunities for state entities to find non-appropriated money for lobbyists.
These agencies and those in the Legislature who defend the practice do so on the premise that non-appropriated money somehow isn’t the taxpayers’ money because it may have originated from fees rather than taxes. I personally think that all money spent by state government is the taxpayers’ money regardless if it originates from taxation or from a government-mandated fee.
In addition to the 23 state government entities which have hired contract lobbyists, approximately 27 local or regional government entities and government funded associations, and even one out-of-state government entity, also employ a contract lobbyist. In the collective, this represents a significant government subsidy of the professional lobbying industry.
Over the past few years, free market think tanks such as Americans for Prosperity, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and a handful of dedicated legislators have been attempting to stop the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying by state government entities. This year I worked with Senator Anthony Sykes to sponsor House Bill 2537, which would have put a stop to the practice and ensure that lobbyists once cut off of government funding couldn’t be hired as state employees in the role of lobbyist or “liaison” to the Legislature.
The bill won the approval of the Government Modernization Committee. Our success was quite temporary as the bill hit a buzzsaw of bipartisan opposition when we took it out to the House floor, with Rep. Mike Reynolds leading the debate against the proposal by specifically expressing opposition to a part of the reform prohibiting lobbyists from going to work for the state. The bill was soundly defeated by a vote of 30 to 64. Our coalition of 30 included 26 Republican and 4 Democrats with the balance of the House either voting against the bill or not voting.
This defeat ensures the continuation of the current status-quo by which your taxpayer dollars fund the private lobbying industry in their all-too-frequent effort to either expand the size and reach of government or oppose the reforms which would streamline and make more efficient.
Until our reform becomes law, we will always face an uphill climb in the endeavor to restore the balance of power in favor of the taxpayer and away from the bureaucracies.