| December 5, 2012

Time to Do Something Great: A Freedom Agenda for 2013

It’s been said that there are two types of people in politics: those who want to be somebody great, and those who want to do something great.

Clearly President Barack Obama is the latter. During his first presidential campaign, Mr. Obama made the point that “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not, that Bill Clinton did not.” Mr. Obama said that he too wanted to be a transformational leader.

He wasn’t kidding. Mr. Obama has gone a long way toward “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” and with a second term he doubtless will attempt to consolidate his gains (Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, et al.). He will continue to tax, borrow, spend, and regulate his way toward Euro-serfdom. Most disturbingly, he will continue to aid and abet the sexual revolution, favoring policies which lead to family disintegration and the attendant rise of the Hubby State so key to Democratic electoral success.

Fortunately, it’s not just President Obama who wants to do something great. Other political leaders are in fact doing great things—transformative things—in statehouses all across the country.

In Wisconsin, for example, Gov. Scott Walker decided it was worth it to challenge government unions.

In Indiana, transformational leaders passed Right to Work and enacted the most sweeping school choice program in the nation. Are you aware that more than half of Indiana’s student population is eligible for private-school vouchers?

Ditto for Louisiana—more than half of their students now qualify for vouchers.

Kansas policymakers this year enacted the largest tax cut in state history. Gov. Sam Brownback—who is serious about eliminating the income tax altogether—used “his political capital and GOP majorities,” The Wall Street Journal noted, to advance “a reform agenda worth the effort.”

In Oklahoma, despite GOP majorities now bordering on the obscene, we have yet to see anything of Barack Obama or Scott Walker proportions.

I would suggest that now is the time. A committed leftist is in the process of fundamentally transforming the country bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers. “Our nation is at a tipping point,” says Oklahoma House Speaker-elect T.W. Shannon, “and I truly believe Oklahoma can be a light for the rest of the nation to follow.” He’s right, and he intends to develop “a conservative, free-market, limited-government agenda that will create strong, prosperous families and grow our economy.”

New Jersey’s no-nonsense Gov. Chris Christie put it well at this summer’s GOP national convention: “We need politicians to care more about doing something and less about being something.”

Our experiment in ordered liberty is at stake. It won’t do for Oklahoma’s political leaders to “play it safe by adjusting the rudder slightly to the right and enjoy the ride until you term out of office,” as my colleague Michael Carnuccio put it.

“We live in a day and age when we need leadership—the kind that is strong, bold, and transformational.”

Freedom-loving Oklahomans have reason to be hopeful. Just last month, Gov. Mary Fallin set an example for the rest of the nation to follow when she defended Oklahoma and its citizens against Mr. Obama’s harmful health-care scheme.

As the governor and state lawmakers look to do something great in 2013, here are a half-dozen ideas to consider—all of which we at OCPA have discussed previously and will be writing about in greater detail in the weeks ahead.

Reform our workers’ compensation system. In an OCPA report earlier this year (“Once More into the Breach: The Path to Effective Workers’ Compensation Reform”), law professor Andrew Spiropoulos demonstrated that Oklahoma’s repeated failures to reform our workers’ compensation system “stem from our refusal to address the chief structural feature of our system—its conception and organization as a judicial system.”

Spiropoulos, who serves as the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at OCPA, says “Oklahoma will not succeed in implementing the reforms necessary to reduce costs until it, as has every state but one, transforms its system to one that is primarily administrative, with a more limited role for the judiciary.”

Get government spending under control. According to Oklahoma’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, state-government spending is at an all-time high. The venerable Tax Foundation, a 75-year-old think tank based in Washington, D.C., says Oklahoma led the nation in government-spending growth over the past decade. As my colleague Jonathan Small never tires of repeating, “Oklahoma doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem.”

Continue to reduce—and eventually phase out—Oklahoma’s personal income tax. OCPA and economist Art Laffer have provided a blueprint for phasing out the state income tax. Even if that blueprint is not embraced, policymakers at the very least should continue to chip away at the top rate. Whatever the case, they must resist any tax reform that actually increases taxes on Oklahoma families. After all, children are wealth. Parents who produce and maintain human capital should be encouraged and rewarded, not punished.

Create Education Savings Accounts. Center-right education policy analysts are calling Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) “the way of the future” and “School Choice 2.0,” saying they are an improvement over vouchers and tax credits. Arizona last year was the first state to create an ESA program. “Through that program,” analyst Matt Ladner explains, “the state of Arizona deposits 90 percent of the funds for a participating child into an account, which can cover multiple educational services through use-restricted debit cards. Parents can choose to use all of their funds on a single method—like private-school tuition—or they can employ a customized strategy using multiple methods (e.g., online programs and community college classes). Critically, parents can save some of the money for future higher education expenses through a 529 college savings program.”

Enact meaningful pension reform. My colleague Jonathan Small is a firm believer in the first rule of holes (“when you’re in one, stop digging”). He acknowledges that our political leaders enacted significant pension reforms in 2011, but he says the really hard work remains to be done: we must stop the practice of adding new liabilities for new state employees. It’s time for Oklahoma to implement a defined-contribution (DC) plan for all new state (OPERS-eligible) employees.

Enact Florida-style Medicaid reforms. In meetings with Oklahoma lawmakers held earlier this year at OCPA, officials from the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability recommended that Oklahoma enact Florida-style reforms that give Medicaid patients more freedom and control than the current “one size fits none” system allows. They estimate that Oklahoma could save as much as $770 million annually.

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