The Veto

What’s The Plan, Dems?

There remain unanswered questions about why some Democratic legislators cut out Gov. Brad Henry from the budget process this year.

image from oldamericancentury.org

Was it simply good ol’ boy politics? Was it leftover residue from last year’s budget agreement? Is there a legislative plan or strategy among Democrats they haven’t shared with the rest of us? Why all the dissension?

(For the record, Okie Funk supported the $3,000 raises for teachers last year. The raises were pushed by Senate Democrats and weren’t initially supported by Henry, who wanted $1,200 raises for teachers. Okie Funk gave full credit to Senate leaders for the raises.)

Henry has vetoed the bulk of the bill. The governor did approve supplemental funding for education to meet all the costs associated with last year’s teacher raises. The veto ultimately asks this question: Do legislators forge ahead with accelerated tax cuts that may created a financial disaster for the state during the next major economic downturn or do they keep the tax cuts on their initial schedule and appropriately fund all our educational systems?

This much is clear: Henry is the leading Democrat in the state. He won a landslide victory over former U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook last November. His approval rating, according to polls, is nearly 70 percent. Voters expect and want him to be part of the state’s budget process.

The vetoed budget reduces the state income tax to 5.25 percent in 2009 instead of 2010 as originally scheduled in the 2006 budget. The budget would reduce state revenues by $15.3 million in 2008 and $74.3 million in 2009.

There are legitimate arguments on both sides about whether to eliminate the state’s income tax, as Okie Funk has argued for years, but if the tax is eventually eliminated then lost revenue will have to come from added sales and property taxes. How do you want to pay for the state’s schools and roads? We do need schools. We do need roads.

Will Henry’s veto be overridden? The initial votes on the budget in the House and Senate were overwhelmingly bipartisan. If that holds, then yes, the budget will prevail.

Mineral Money For Retirement System?

A resolution calling for a vote of Oklahomans to redirect mineral income to the state teachers’ retirement system has been passed by the House.

Under the proposal, sponsored by state Reps. Tad Jones (R-Claremore) and Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs), voters would decide whether to amend the state’s constitution so the underfunded retirement system could benefit. Once the system was funded at 80 percent, the money would go back to the School Land Commission.

The teachers’ retirement system is currently one of the worst funded public pensions in the nation. This seems like a permanent solution to the problem, though voter approval of the measure could be problematic, and the fund needs immediate new funding. Its sponsors say it would not affect overall funding for schools.

This resolution passed 98-3 and now goes to the Senate.