| May 31, 2010

Wanted: Freedom Enhancements in 2011

Given the current revenue picture, it’s likely that in 2011 Oklahoma’s government will be smaller than it is today. Fortunately for policy makers, this is precisely what Oklahoma voters want.

A scientific telephone survey of 1,000 likely voters registered in Oklahoma was conducted February 25 through March 8, 2010, by SoonerPoll, the same firm that conducts the “Oklahoma Poll” for the Tulsa World. The poll, which was commissioned by OCPA, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Consider:

“Which would you rather see in Oklahoma?”

  • A smaller government with fewer services ... 61 percent
  • A larger government with many services ... 28 percent
  • Don’t Know/Refused ... 12 percent

“If Oklahoma’s state government is faced with a budget shortfall, which of the following actions do you think the state should do?”

  • Raise taxes and/or fees ... 10 percent
  • Cut spending ... 77 percent
  • Neither ... 3 percent
  • Both ... 8 percent
  • Don’t Know/Refused ... 2 percent

“In order to deal with the budget crunch at the Oklahoma state capitol, a proposal has been made to reduce the number of state government employees by 10 percent. Would you support or oppose this proposal?”

  • Support ... 67 percent
  • Oppose ... 26 percent
  • Don’t Know/Refused ... 8 percent

Oklahomans realize instinctively what researchers have long known: Oklahoma has too many government employees. A publication issued this year by The State Chamber indicates that Oklahoma ranks 15th in the nation in the number of full-time state and local government employees as a percent of the population.

What’s needed at the state capitol is leadership. It’s time for policy makers to step forward and echo former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who said in his 2003 inaugural address: “There would be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society than if we can make these buildings around us empty of workers; silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill.” It’s time to right-size Oklahoma’s state government.

State Treasurer Scott Meacham has correctly observed that “in good times, I do think that it’s true that government is subject to ‘mission creep.’ … When the revenue is flowing maybe there’s a trend to drift into areas that are outside of the core mission or missions of government. What happens when things are going well is that things that are ‘nice to do’ become new programs, but in hard times or tight times, it’s time to look at maybe pruning the tree of government.”

A government with too many employees needs to be pruned. A government that owns golf courses and insurance companies and print shops and hundreds of thousands of acres is not focusing on its core mission.

The average Oklahoman worked a full 96 days this year in order to earn enough money to pay the federal, state, and local tax collectors. As OCPA distinguished fellow Dr. J. Rufus Fears has observed, “the American public pays an amount of taxes that no despotic pharaoh in antiquity would have ever dreamt of imposing upon his people.”

Until government has been right-sized, it has no business taking more money from its citizens. And in February 2010 fiscally prudent state policy makers entered the legislative session with a real opportunity. Indeed, they were blessed with a perfect storm, a storm that courageous federal policy makers (such as Tom Coburn and Paul Ryan, for example) could only envy:

  • Oklahoma voters were and are appalled at the fiscal recklessness of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid regime;
  • Oklahoma voters want a smaller government in Washington, D.C. and a smaller government in Oklahoma City;
  • The current regime in D.C. has commenced raising our taxes and increasing government spending, and Oklahomans are hungry for an alternative; and
  • State policy makers had a built-in excuse to do the right thing: Oklahoma’s revenue picture required a significant right-sizing of government.

Regrettably, they did not take advantage of their opportunity. Apparently under the impression that Oklahomans are not yet transferring enough of their earnings to bureaucrats, the governor and state lawmakers approved roughly $300 million worth of “revenue enhancements” (according to the Associated Press) during the recently ended legislative session.

So, we shall try it again next year, most likely with a center-right government in both the legislative and executive branches this time. Let’s say it together now: Cut spending. Don’t raise taxes or fees. We want a smaller government and more freedom.

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