Budget & Tax , Good Government

Tom Coburn | April 1, 2018

The answer to state government’s failures isn't more money

Tom Coburn

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

As a doctor, I investigated the root cause of problems. Some doctors have fallen into the trap of just treating symptoms—this is the major reason for the overdose epidemic.

In government, the prime way politicians, bureaucrats, and some advocates approach government is to throw your hard-earned money at it. The answer to state government's failures isn't more money—it's fiscally responsible governance.

Recurring revenues have been raised more than $700 million the past several years. State government operational dysfunction abounds; consider, for example, the scandal of at least $30 million squandered at the state Health Department. 

Oklahomans are striving to get out of a recession. Working Oklahomans need big tax increases like a hemorrhaging patient needs leeches.

Tax increases are unnecessary. Opportunities are numerous for fiscally responsible governance. Robust Medicaid enrollment audits, for example, are saving states billions of dollars. Oklahoma can implement this and save more than $80 million in state-share funds annually.

Oklahoma’s state government cries poverty yet has subsidized, over a period spanning the last two recessions, $20 million for Hollywood and film production, including $4.6 million to producer Harvey Weinstein.

The state piggybacks the federal giveaway of subsidizing wind with state subsidies exceeding $100 million annually.

We need fiscally responsible governance at 23rd and Lincoln.

The state cheats itself by more than $100 million annually in state tribal gaming tax revenue because of its below-market gaming tax rate. 

Oklahoma pays tribal governments more than $50 million annually to sell cigarettes.

Patronage and mission creep created the fundamental flaws of K-12 and higher education. Empowering parents, students, and teachers is the solution.

Government employment reform, so that good employees are compensated more and underperforming employees are moved on, is necessary.

State pension administration reform can save $15 million annually.

Smarter and healtheir spending of the more than $75 million annually controlled by the billion-dollar Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust is long overdue.

A bipartisan, bicameral oversight committee with subpoena power to conduct performance and process improvement audits and reviews of every dollar spent, with full-time and independent staff that works transparently year-round, is a must.

While well-intended, plans to throw a bomb of tax increases at the real problem—the absence of structural and transformational reform—will fail like previous attempts. More money and appointing better managers to a flawed structure that was built by corrupt, good-ol'-boy politicians? That isn't transformational. 

Oklahoma's most vulnerable citizens, and Oklahoma taxpayers who don't have an army of lobbyists, deserve for politicians to take the true steps to do the tough work of responsible fiscal governance, structural reform, and transformational policy solutions that end the failed status quo of government operation—as they promised they would.

Just throwing more money at government is folly.  

Tom Coburn

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