Good Government

Don't give health department, TSET a pass

May 3, 2018

Jonathan Small

This article was published in OCPA's Perspective magazine View Issue

A young man goes off to college. His parents work hard, save money, cut expenses, do without, and make sacrifices to pay for school so this young man can get an education.

Soon after, the parents get a phone call. Our young man has mismanaged the money for tuition, books, and room and board by reckless spending. Now he’s broke and needs more money. He cries and begs, pleads, and moans for more cash to make it through.

What do the parents do? Bail him out? Or bring him home to face the consequences? Both options surely come with good intentions.

Of course, good intentions are never really enough—except sometimes in politics. Then we let people off the hook if they have good intentions.

This helps explain scandals like the one unfolding right now at the Oklahoma Department of Health, or why the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) gives free advertising to nightclubs.

The people responsible all seem to be good folks who just made some bad decisions. The Oklahoma Department of Health and TSET have important missions and do some critical work. But is that enough? Does that mean they get a pass?

Of course not. Except that they have gotten a pass, and so here we are picking up the pieces.

The paradox of government is that it exists because people are imperfect. We don’t cooperate perfectly and, sometimes, we hurt other people. So we create government, but then that means giving extra power to certain people.

Even power bestowed democratically and for good purposes is dangerous. The basic insight of American constitutionalism is that liberty is not protected nor good government produced simply by picking the right politicians, but by limiting power and ensuring accountability.

The framers of the Constitution would spin in their graves over TSET, a state agency with a guaranteed revenue stream and zero accountability to voters. They would be shocked that legislators, the people’s representatives with the power of the purse, do so little oversight of agencies like the Oklahoma Department of Health.

No part of government is too important for hard questions, tough oversight, real accountability, and strict limits on its power. It is incumbent upon lawmakers to pump the brakes on any more tax increases until every agency receives a line by line performance and process management review to make government more efficient.

It is now time to stop the bureaucracy from focusing on how to force more tax increases on Oklahomans and instead focus on how to modernize government.