| November 22, 2012

Five new developments we're thankful for

Just in time for Thanksgiving, we’ve received a week’s worth of encouraging news – news too delicious not to share, even as we all enjoy much-needed time with our families and nourishing food. Each of these news items has this in common: It reminds us why we're fortunate to live in a democratic republic and a truly self-governing state -- a place in which it is possible for an individual to make a difference. From OCPA founder Dr. David R. Brown to Gov. Mary Fallin to Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid), who defended taxpayers in court against an unconstitutional bond approval, to the parents of special-needs children, who have fought valiantly for their right to choose a school that meets their children's requirements, to Congressman James Lankford, Oklahomans repeatedly prove the power of one.

1. Last week, the State Policy Network recognized our founder and chairman, Dr. David R. Brown, with the Roe Award, the highest honor bestowed by the national network of state-based think tanks.

Like Thomas Roe, the founder of both SPN and the South Carolina-based Roe Foundation, Dr. Brown was one of the earliest champions of free enterprise to grasp the importance of state-based efforts to expose the limits of government and to highlight the limitless potential of the entrepreneur.

In 1978, when Dr. Brown joined Roe on the board of the Heritage Foundation, the nation faced economic malaise at home and hostility abroad -- and, in Washington and Oklahoma City alike, legislators continued to crow for more government. By the mid-1980s, Ronald Reagan was president -- but the long-term success of his low-tax and deregulatory scheme was anything but assured.

In a conversation with Reagan, Roe once lamented the lack of "mini-Heritage Foundations" in the states. "Build some," the president said. "Put a think tank in every state." Taking Reagan's suggestion to heart, Roe built his in South Carolina and Dr. Brown founded OCPA.

We're so thankful for Dr. Brown's leadership -- and we're also grateful that SPN saw fit to acknowledge his peerless contributions to the free-market movement. For those of us who were able to attend the dinner in his honor in Amelia Island, Fla., last week, it was a sheer pleasure to see him receive the spotlight he deserves.

2. Gov. Mary Fallin decided not to build a state-based health insurance exchange nor to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

As OCPA president Michael Carnuccio put it in his reaction to this news:

The appeal of federal funds for an expansion of Medicaid is obvious. What is less obvious is that, under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will gradually reduce Medicaid funding -- and the states will be left to pick up the tab for any well-intended, but short-sighted expansion of the program. With the expansion, the cost of the program to Oklahoma taxpayers by 2023 would have been roughly $6.5 billion -- almost the exact amount of the entire current state-appropriated budget. Thanks to the governor's vision, we can now pursue Medicaid-reform solutions at the state level that will be fair for taxpayers and program beneficiaries alike. The way to save our country is through strong states -- and those start with a strong governor. Therefore, today, we applaud Gov. Fallin's bold leadership."

Given Gov. Fallin's role as vice chairman of the National Governors Association, we're unsurprised by her stalwart defense of federalism and her leadership on this issue -- but we still greatly appreciate it.

3. The Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a $25 million bond issue to improve the Zink Lake dam on the Arkansas River is unconstitutional.

It's probably not exaggeration to say that Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid) is single-handedly responsible for this decision. Heedless of the popularity of the project, Anderson rightly argued before the Oklahoma Supreme Court that the bond approval was nothing more than a gift to the city of Tulsa -- and that such gifts are prohibited by the Constitution.

Anderson also pointed out that the project was not the project originally approved by the legislature. The legislature approved a bond issue to fund major improvements in the Zink dam area in Tulsa, but city leaders never undertook that particular project. Instead, they planned to use the bond approval to fund a different project.

While the court didn't rule on Anderson's second argument, they agreed with him whole-heartedly (9-0) that the bond issue was a gift, writing:

The proponents of the bonds go to great lengths to attempt to show that the bond issues will provide the state of Oklahoma not only with economic benefits, but cultural and ecological benefits as well. In reality, the bonds appear to be nothing more than a gift to the city of Tulsa and surrounding communities from the state.

The decision creates precedent that bodes well for taxpayers in the future: It could limit "pass-throughs" and other questionable methods of funding pet projects that -- however meritorious -- don't benefit the state as a whole.

4. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the Union and Jenks school superintendents lacked standing to sue the parents of special-needs kids who use the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program.

We at OCPA are stalwart champions of school choice. In the case of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities, the evidence speaks for itself: The program works. That didn't keep school superintendents in the Union and Jenks school districts from suing parents who avail themselves of the scholarships for removing money from their school districts, though. Fortunately, the Supreme Court said they lacked standing -- and the worthy recipients of the LNH Scholarships will continue to be able to attend the schools they choose.

5. Congressman James Lankford was named Chairman of the U.S. House Republican Policy Committee.

To put it simply, the nation could use more "Oklahoma common sense." That's why we were so happy and pleased to receive word that a member of the Oklahoma delegation will lead the House Republican Policy Committee.

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