Ready, aim, sustain

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Image of Gov. Brad Henry

Here’s part of Gov. Brad Henry’s statement about his decision to veto House Bill 3354, legislation that would allow people here to openly carry weapons:

I’m a strong supporter of the right to bear arms and have earned an A rating from the NRA, but this measure does nothing to strengthen 2nd Amendment protections. We already allow trained and licensed Oklahomans to protect themselves by carrying concealed handguns, and it doesn’t make anyone safer to wear a holster and display that weapon to the rest of the public. On the contrary, it makes it more difficult and dangerous for law enforcement officers to try to sort out the good guys and bad guys when they arrive at a crime scene.

Henry added this:

The legislation could also damage Oklahoma’s image as a safe, friendly state with a great quality of life, making it less attractive to new business and industry and negatively impacting future prosperity.

We know all the ideological arguments in favor of “open carry.” It’s all about Second-Amendment rights and freedom. But how can any reasonable person argue specifically against Henry’s positions? It’s both a law-enforcement issue and a state-image issue. The Oklahoma State Troopers Association opposes the bill. Many people will find it unsettling to see people walking around the streets with holsters and guns. This is just common sense.

Henry’s veto, like so many others this legislative session, is sensible . Let’s hope it can be sustained in any override attempts, which are expected this week, according to media reports. The bill, however, was passed with large majorities in the House and Senate.

In another prudent move, Henry vetoed HJR 1054 that would allow the state to opt-out of the new federal health care program. The bill would also require the Legislature to file a lawsuit against the new program.

In his veto message, Henry said:

By essentially stating that Oklahoma will not abide by new federal health care laws, HJR 1054 invites legal action against the state in a case it cannot win. No state has the authority to selectively ignore federal laws of its choosing, and any attempt to do so will be ruled unconstitutional by the courts, but not before a costly legal battle.

In the final analysis, HJR 1054 will not affect the administration of federal health care reform or assist supporters or opponents of the federal legislation. It will simply trigger an exercise in legal futility that results in a hefty bill for Oklahoma taxpayers and the potential loss of federal funding for important health care programs currently in place.

Henry’s last vetoes in office remind us how important it is that Oklahomans elect a Democrat as governor this year. Either of the leading Democratic candidates, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmondson, would bring a balance to the Republican-controlled legislature. Some Republicans, no matter what, will continue to propose extremist legislation that embarrasses the state on a national level. That’s not going to change anytime soon. But if there is no counter, what will Oklahoma become?


Henry Waits On Budget Deal

Declining Revenues?

No one enjoys paying taxes, but they are inevitable in a civilized society. The Republican Party these days like to demonize taxes, but it has have proven itself recklessly irresponsible on a federal level when it comes to spending government money. Look at the budget deficit.

Image from www.oldamericancentury.org

So Gov. Brad Henry has made yet another prudent and appropriate decision by delaying action on GOP-proposal that would accelerate tax cuts passed in 2006 and add additional cuts. Henry says he will wait until a final budget has been agreed upon before making a final decision on whether to sign the tax bill presented to him.

A potential major problem is that state revenues are not meeting earlier estimates, and that could open the state up for problems down the road.

“These projected stagnant revenues come at a time when the state is already
struggling to deal with billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities in the state teachers’
retirement system, as well as upholding commitments to raise teachers’ salaries, expand access to higher education, repair roads and bridges, and bolster the health care system,” according to the Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future.

What’s important here is that Oklahoma citizens get involved and look at what gets funded in this state. Too often, people just rely on the clichés or rhetoric of party politics to decide where to stand on an issue. But where is the money going? Who benefits the most by the tax cuts? Who gets to spend your tax dollars and on what programs?

Tats Or Not?

Why won’t the state just leave the tattoo industry alone? Why does it continue to hassle tattoo artists? Why doesn’t the state get big signs that say, “Do Not Enter If You Are Not A Conformist,” and place them on the state’s borders?

The state legalized tattoos last year. Oklahoma was the last state in the nation to do so.

But a couple of the regulations were so draconian and unconstitutional that most tattoo studios could not stay in business. One regulation, for example, required tattoo studio owners to purchase a $100,000 surety bond. Another regulation required studios to be at least 1,000 feet from a school, playground, or church.

Oklahoma County District Judge Dan Owens recently ruled the provisions were unconstitutional, but now the state health department wants to take the issue to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

This is a complete waste of taxpayer’s money and a typical, Okie spectacle. We supposedly legalize tattoos, but then we spend taxpayers’ money on trying to stop people from getting tattoos.


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.