November 2012 Archives

Pledges and promises

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I, _____, pledge to the taxpayers of the (____ district of the) state of ______ and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

This morning I read this Associated Press story lionizing Republican elected officials who had signed the above pledge but were now backing out and being rather high-handed about it. The more I read the more disgusted I got.

"Oh, I signed it," Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said on Fox News about Norquist's pledge, adding he still supports its goals. "But we've got to deal with the crisis we face. We've got to deal with the political reality of the president's victory."

How blasé. No wonder voters don't trust politicians. I guess "deal with the political reality of the president's victory" means there's no hope of spending reductions or entitlement reform, which means responsible Republicans need to resign ourselves to becoming the tax collectors to fund the Democrats' spending spree. The Dems get all the love for the out-of-control spending, the Reps take all the flak for betraying their party's most loyal supporters.

"I'm not obligated on the pledge," [Tennessee Sen. Bob] Corker told CBS News. "I was just elected. The only thing I'm honoring is the oath I take when I serve when I'm sworn in this January."...

Rep. Peter King of New York told Sunday's "Meet the Press" on NBC that the pledge is good for a two-year term only.

"A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress," King said. "For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a support of declaration of war against Japan. I'm not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed, and the economic situation is different."

So here's the game: When you're a candidate for an open seat, competing against other Republicans in a tight race, you sign the pledge either to give yourself an edge over your rivals or to neutralize an advantage your rivals have over you. You sign the pledge because voters care about the issue. You sign the pledge because if you don't, your opponents will run ads saying you won't pledge not to raise taxes, and you will lose the primary.

But then, once you're in office and you have the power and fundraising capacity that comes with incumbency, you can easily frighten off potential rivals and get re-elected without taking the pledge. Then you can claim that the pledge is no longer valid because it wasn't taken for this election cycle.

The AP reporter and most of the pols quoted in the story seem to want to make it all about Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. I'm not a huge fan of Norquist, but he isn't the issue. Sure, he promotes the pledge and makes sure every candidate for federal office is confronted with the opportunity to sign it. But the politicians who sign it aren't afraid of Norquist. They're afraid of the voters who will reject them if they fail to sign. And if a politician repudiates the pledge, he isn't sticking out his tongue at Grover Norquist, he's mooning all of the voters who backed him because of his promise to oppose increasing the size of government.

Washington politicians will spend every dime we send them and trillions more besides. The answer is not to send them more money; it's to get them to spend less. That's the point of the second half of the pledge.

Forbes staffer William Baldwin has a list of 11 states in a "fiscal death spiral" because the number of takers exceeds the number of makers and because of high levels of debt and unfunded pension liabilities. For those 11 states, Baldwin says, if you have to live there, fine, but don't buy a house and don't buy municipal bonds in those states.

New Mexico has the worst taker to maker ratio, followed by Mississippi, California, Alabama, Maine, New York, South Carolina, Kentucky, Illinois, Hawaii, and Ohio. Here's the complete list. Note that Federal employees are excluded from the total, as state spending is the issue.

UPDATE: I removed the video as Forbes seems to have changed it to start automatically.

The six-year-old was learning about Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, in Sunday School, so I gave him some supplemental educational material: A straightforward retelling of the story from the Book of Daniel by Johnny Cash, accompanied by the Carter Family and the Statler Brothers. At the beginning of the video, Cash mentions that this was the first song he sang for Sam Phillips when he came to Sun Records to try out for a chance to record.

Life has been busy. There's a lot to write about -- last week's Oklahoma State Supreme Court decisions; Mayor Junior's desire to rebrand Tulsa -- not much time to write.

Illinois Governor Mark Quinn offers a clear and creative explanation of the crisis faced by his state as a result of decades of underfunding contributions to public pensions:

Quinn avoids casting blame on the public employees or their unions, putting the blame instead on politicians who didn't worry about making the public pension funds actuarially sound. What goes unsaid is that the politicians were buying public employee union support (volunteers, endorsements, campaign funds) with more generous pensions and retirement benefits, while not paying the political price of asking taxpayers to pay enough additional taxes to cover the additional costs of those expanded pensions and benefits.

Other pages on go into a bit more detail about the depth of the crisis and its causes. One interesting stat: There are now more people drawing from Illinois state pension funds as retirees than contributing as current employees. That situation is likely to worsen as pension liabilities force cuts in headcount for current operations. As with Social Security, Illinois politicians assumed, wrongly, that they'd always have more people paying in than taking out. But lifespans have grown and government employees have retired at earlier ages.

This is not an Illinois problem. I'm reminded of a Reuters story that I linked last week about the crisis in the City of San Bernardino, California -- the result of "a vicious circle of self-interest":

Yet on close examination, the city's decades-long journey from prosperous, middle-class community to bankrupt, crime-ridden, foreclosure-blighted basket case is straightforward -- and alarmingly similar to the path traveled by many municipalities around America's largest state. San Bernardino succumbed to a vicious circle of self-interests among city workers, local politicians and state pension overseers.

Little by little, over many years, the salaries and retirement benefits of San Bernardino's city workers -- and especially its police and firemen -- grew richer and richer, even as the city lost its major employers and gradually got poorer and poorer.

Unions poured money into city council elections, and the city council poured money into union pay and pensions. The California Public Employees' Retirement System (Calpers), which manages pension plans for San Bernardino and many other cities, encouraged ever-sweeter benefits. Investment bankers sold clever bond deals to pay for them. Meanwhile, state law made it impossible to raise local property taxes and difficult to boost any other kind....

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin announced today that Oklahoma will not create a state-based Obamacare exchange or participate in Obamacare's Medicaid expansion:

For the past few months, my staff and I have worked with other lawmakers, Oklahoma stakeholders and health care experts across the country to determine the best course of action for Oklahoma in regards to both the creation of a health insurance exchange and the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Our priority has been to ascertain what can be done to increase quality and access to health care, contain costs, and do so without placing an undue burden on taxpayers or the state. As I have stated many times before, it is my firm belief that PPACA fails to further these goals, and will in fact decrease the quality of health care across the United States while contributing to the nation's growing deficit crisis.

Despite my ongoing opposition to the federal health care law, the state of Oklahoma is legally obligated to either build an exchange that is PPACA compliant and approved by the Obama Administration, or to default to an exchange run by the federal government. This choice has been forced on the people of Oklahoma by the Obama Administration in spite of the fact that voters have overwhelmingly expressed their opposition to the federal health care law through their support of State Question 756, a constitutional amendment prohibiting the implementation of key components of PPACA.

After careful consideration, I have today informed U.S. Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius that Oklahoma will not pursue the creation of its own health insurance exchange. Any exchange that is PPACA compliant will necessarily be 'state-run' in name only and would require Oklahoma resources, staff and tax dollars to implement. It does not benefit Oklahoma taxpayers to actively support and fund a new government program that will ultimately be under the control of the federal government, that is opposed by a clear majority of Oklahomans, and that will further the implementation of a law that threatens to erode both the quality of American health care and the fiscal stability of the nation.

Furthermore, I have also decided that Oklahoma will not be participating in the Obama Administration's proposed expansion of Medicaid. Such an expansion would be unaffordable, costing the state of Oklahoma up to $475 million between now and 2020, with escalating annual expenses in subsequent years. It would also further Oklahoma's reliance on federal money that may or may not be available in the future given the dire fiscal problems facing the federal government. On a state level, massive new costs associated with Medicaid expansion would require cuts to important government priorities such as education and public safety. Furthermore, the proposed Medicaid expansion offers no meaningful reform to a massive entitlement program already contributing to the out-of-control spending of the federal government.

Moving forward, the state of Oklahoma will pursue two actions simultaneously. The first will be to continue our support for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's ongoing legal challenge of PPACA. General Pruitt's lawsuit raises different Constitutional questions than previous legal challenges, and both he and I remain optimistic that Oklahoma's challenge can succeed.

Our second and equally important task will be to pursue state-based solutions that improve health outcomes and contain costs for Oklahoma families. Serious reform, for instance, should be pursued in the area of Medicaid and public health, where effective chronic disease prevention and management programs could address the trend of skyrocketing medical bills linked to avoidable hospital and emergency room visits. I look forward to working with legislative leaders and lawmakers in both parties to pursue Oklahoma health care solutions for Oklahoma families.

Here is the heart of the letter Fallin sent to U. S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. In the letter, Fallin also designates Oklahoma Secretary of Health and Human Services Terry Cline as the primary contact for the State of Oklahoma for anything related to Obamacare.

I am writing in response to the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) request that each state provide a declaration letter indicating their option for building a health insurance exchange as outlined in PPACA. While I remain deeply committed to the health of Oklahomans, it would be irresponsible of me to commit our state to the development of an insurance exchange based on the information provided by HHS to date. Our state will not establish a transitional reinsurance program as outlined in PPACA. However, Oklahoma will elect to make all final eligibility determinations for our citizens referred to Medicaid from a federal insurance exchange.

I continue to believe there are viable market-based solutions that can be found to facilitate greater access to health insurance coverage in Oklahoma. My hope is that we can engage in future conversations that allow states the flexibility necessary to engage in true healthcare reform, create efficiencies in entitlement programs and empower individuals to take responsibility for their own health.

Fallin's decision was greeted with applause and appreciation by free-market organizations in Oklahoma.

Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, head of the Tulsa 912 Project Tea Party organization and a leader of the successful effort to defeat the Tulsa County Vision2 sales tax scheme, thanked Gov. Fallin and congratulated Tea Partiers for their phone calls and emails urging the governor to take this step. Vuillemont-Smith asked Tea Party members to "express our appreciation in the same way we expressed our opinions -- call Governor Fallin's office and say, 'Thank you!'"

Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs president Michael Carnuccio:

"Gov. Mary Fallin faced a critical decision today -- and she chose wisely. Her courageous rejection of fleeting federal dollars to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma improves the odds that the state government will have the means to adequately fund important core services -- including transportation infrastructure, education and public safety -- for years to come. The appeal of federal funds for an expansion of Medicaid is obvious. What is less obvious is that, under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will gradually reduce Medicaid funding -- and the states will be left to pick up the tab for any well-intended, but short-sighted expansion of the program. With the expansion, the cost of the program to Oklahoma taxpayers by 2023 would have been roughly $6.5 billion -- almost the exact amount of the entire current state-appropriated budget. Thanks to the governor's vision, we can now pursue Medicaid-reform solutions at the state level that will be fair for taxpayers and program beneficiaries alike. The way to save our country is through strong states -- and those start with a strong governor. Therefore, today, we applaud Gov. Fallin's bold leadership."

Americans for Prosperity Oklahoma state director Stuart Jolly:

"AFP applauds the actions of Governor Fallin to reject creating a health insurance exchange in the state of Oklahoma" said Stuart Jolly, AFP Oklahoma State Director. "Oklahoma's participation in an exchange would increase insurance premiums on consumers and taxes on hardworking Oklahoma families."

Multiple governors have announced this week that they will not create an exchange. This list now includes John Kasich (OH),Terry Branstad (IA), Mike Pence (IN), Dave Heineman (NE), Paul LePage (ME) Robert Bentley (AL), Bobby Jindal (LA), Sam Brownback (KS), Rick Perry (TX), Nikki Haley (SC), Nathan Deal (GA), Robert McDonnell (VA), Jay Nixon (MO) and others. AFP supports these governors.

"Many governors joined together to send a strong message to Washington" Jolly continued. "AFP commends Governor Fallin for her leadership in protecting the Sooner State."

The federal government is offering unlimited grants to states to create an exchange between now and the end of 2014. All exchanges must be self-funding starting in 2015. Each governor must notify the federal government by Friday, December 14, 2012, of his or her decision whether to create a state-based health insurance exchange, defer to the federal government or partner on a hybrid-exchange.

"Federal funds are flowing freely to buy state compliance, but state budgets will take the hit in two short years. Governor Fallin shows real leadership in rejecting these temporary funds." said Nicole Kaeding, AFP state policy manager. "Creating an exchange puts state taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars every year. States should reject these bloated bureaucracies."

Oklahoma Republican Party chairman Matt Pinnell:

"I'd like to commend Governor Fallin for today's announcement that Oklahoma will not institute a state healthcare exchange," said OKGOP Chairman Matt Pinnell. "In 2010, nearly 65% of Oklahomans voted to oppose Barack Obama's takeover of our healthcare system, and Governor Fallin's decision today reinforces those wishes. The reality is, governors will have no real control over these exchanges. Let the Obama Administration sleep in the bed they made."

Governor Fallin also announced that Oklahoma will not take part in the Medicaid expansion that is part of the Affordable Care Act.

"Estimates show Oklahoma would incur costs of nearly a half a billion dollars between now and 2020 were we to expand Medicaid," continued Pinnell. "These additional costs to the State of Oklahoma are irresponsible and would result in cuts to vital core functions of state government."

"Like Governor Fallin, we continue to support Attorney General Scott Pruitt's ongoing legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act," said Pinnell. "We are confident that the challenge raised by the State of Oklahoma will ultimately succeed. In the meantime, we again commend Governor Fallin for continuing to uphold the wishes of the vast majority of Oklahomans."

"We looked for investors who believed in our vision of Tulsa hosting a championship-quality WNBA team that would serve as a role model for young people throughout our state and region," Cameron says. "We looked for people who believed in Tulsa and who shared our vision of the great entertainment, community role models and community visibility our team could provide. One of our goals is for this to be Tulsa's team." -- Tulsa Shock owner Bill Cameron, Tulsa People, May 2010.

"Our players are everyday role models for thousands of young female athletes...." -- Tulsa Shock President Steve Swetoha, July 27, 2011

The Associated Press report:

A judge in Atlanta on Friday set bond at $100,000 for ex-WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Chamique Holdsclaw, who was in jail on assault and weapons charges.

She is accused of firing a shot into a car belonging to 29-year-old Jennifer Lacy, who plays for the Tulsa Shock. Police say the 35-year-old Holdsclaw also used a bat to smash the car's windows. Holdsclaw was in custody at the Fulton County Jail.

No one was injured in the assault. Lacy told police that Holdsclaw was an ex-girlfriend and they were Atlanta Dream teammates in 2009. Holdsclaw was ordered to wear a monitoring device and have no contact with Lacy.

I got wind of this via Stacy McCain, who has posted a couple of items about the incident:

McCain found a February 2012 article that cites Holdsclaw as a producer of a new "lesbian-based" reality show called "The Other Women of America: Atlanta."

A search of recent Tweets by Lacy and Holdsclaw turned up a few interesting things:

Jennifer Lacy was so excited about President Obama's reelection that she tweeted a link to a faked photo of Big Bird "flipping the bird" with the uncensored caption, "F[---] ROMNEY / I'M BACK"

On Monday, November 12, 2012, the day before the alleged attack, Lacy posted several tweets that seem foreboding in retrospect:

It's funny when people stalk your life. Didn't know I mattered or was that important to ya

I think I'm over 2012...looking forward to a new year

What is going on with this world today?!?!? It has been a strange kinda week -_-

On Tuesday, November 13, 2012, the same evening as the alleged attack, Holdsclaw posted this tweet:

Everything is a lesson learned. We all make decisions good and bad. As long as we grow from them that's all that matters. #lessonlearned

The Shock moved from Detroit to Tulsa for the 2010 season and has trailed the WNBA in attendance ever since. Average home attendance at the BOK Center in 2012 was 5,203.

All the tweets and links to more news coverage on Storify.

Cheri Asher, owner of the Coffee House on Cherry Street, has won the 2012 Tulsey award for restaurateur. The Tulsey Awards honor entrepreneurs in a variety of categories.

I sent in a nomination for Cheri, a little summary of her accomplishments as an entrepreneur:

Cheri Asher has created and sustained a thriving community gathering place for nearly six years. I was an early regular, and I've watched CHoCS evolve under Cheri's direction. She is ever watchful for any aspect of the business that isn't working as well as it should. Cheri has mastered the delicate art of making adjustments that fix the problem without damaging the core qualities that make CHoCS a favorite place for her customers.

It's most obvious in the physical layout as over the years she has added and replaced furniture, shifted partitions and tables, rearranged the entrance, built a small stage -- all to create a variety of spaces to meet customer needs and maintain good flow. Less apparent but equally important are the adjustments Cheri makes to staff and menu.

Cheri deserves recognition not only for creating the kind of place that makes Tulsa cool, but also as a model entrepreneur, building and sustaining a thriving customer-oriented business in challenging times.

Rereading this, I feel I downplayed the importance of Cheri's staff. She has a great team behind the counter and in the kitchen. She has found reliable workers who can keep the place running right whether she's there or not. That is not an easy thing to do, and it's yet another credit to her that she finds good people and is able to keep them.

I look for locally owned coffeehouses everywhere I travel, and I've never found any place quite as "just right" as Coffee House on Cherry Street.

Pat McGuigan takes a close look at Oklahoma State Ken Miller's apparent fiscal evolution:

A question that inquiring minds -- at least this one -- seek to answer is this: Is Oklahoma State Treasurer Ken Miller "growing" (moving to the Left) in office?

The question takes me back to my time in the District of Columbia, when observant conservatives often fretted over the tendency of friends to shift slowly (in some cases rapidly) to the political Left, earning words of praise from The Washington Post and other keepers of the liberal flame....

Indeed, the Tax Foundation, a respected 75-year-old think tank, actually concluded Oklahoma leads the nation in state-government spending growth over the past decade. Yikes! That spending growth information is often obscured by the state's comparative economic boom, especially since the start of the Great Recession.

Some political leaders are not pleased when this spending reality is reported, but it's curious that state Treasurer Ken Miller is among them, as he commented recently: "Those who paint current officeholders as the biggest spenders in state history are being disingenuous."

I'm not surprised that Mr. Miller would be a bit squishy on fiscal issues. Recall that as a legislator Ken Miller supported the expansion of Quality Jobs Act tax credits to pro basketball players, even as the owners of the future Oklahoma City Thunder were arguing in a Seattle courtroom that NBA franchises have no overall positive economic impact on a city. I wrote at the time:

The idea [behind the Quality Jobs Act] is that these companies are bringing dollars and good jobs into the state, and the resulting increase in payroll and consumer spending will bring in more than enough new revenue to the state treasury to compensate for the payroll rebates.

An NBA team doesn't fit those criteria, no matter how much it may boost our state's self-esteem. Instead of bringing new revenue in from out of state, a pro basketball team will merely reapportion the way Oklahoma City residents spend their disposable income.

Study after study shows that a major league sports team doesn't grow the local economic pie; it simply competes with other entertainment and leisure businesses for a share of the same pie. The Sonics owners made that very case in a Seattle courtroom, as part of their effort to break the lease on Seattle's Key Arena, arguing that the team had a negligible impact on the local economy.

Worse, Miller agreed to a special exemption that allowed the team to collect the tax credits even if the salaries aren't taxable in Oklahoma. I decided then and there to make the bill that extended the Quality Jobs Act tax credits to an NBA team a litmus test for future elections:

None of the supporters of SB 1819 are likely to pay come election day -- the benefits are concentrated and the costs are diffuse -- but I will be keeping this vote in mind should any of them seek higher office. How someone voted on SB 1819 is an indication of that legislator's susceptibility to lobbyist pressure and view of the proper role of government in economic development.

TulsansAgainstChloramine.jpgThe Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) recently switched Tulsa's water system from the use of chlorine as a secondary disinfectant to chloramine -- a combination of chlorine and ammonia -- despite concerns about the effects of the chemical when ingested, used in cooking, or used in bathing. The conversion was complete at the end of July 2012.

Chloramine-treated water can't be used directly in fish ponds and can't be used in dialysis. It is documented to cause deterioration of materials commonly used in plumbing; indeed, a TMUA member heads a company that sells chloramine-resistant parts to replace plumbing components damaged by the chemical.

The switch was the result of new EPA regulations relating the potential formation of hazardous byproducts of chlorine water treatment in parts of the water system.

A group called Tulsans against Chloramine (TAC) was formed to urge the TMUA to find a better alternative to meet the EPA regulations without exposing residents to a new hazards in the form of chloramine. The TMUA has politely heard but effectively ignored their concerns. It seems to me that the TMUA is displaying the same highhandedness toward the public that the trash board (TARE) showed regarding their radical reworking of the trash service.

As a Title 60 trust like TARE, TMUA has little accountability to the public, but the mayor could choose to appoint members who will be responsive to public concerns as terms expire. The City Council could choose to deny re-confirmation to members who have been arrogant toward the public or who have refused to give serious consideration to alternatives from the public, forcing the mayor to appoint someone new. I am hopeful that some of our new legislators, who understand the Title 60 problem, will enact reforms giving citizens more control over these powerful public organizations.

Tulsans against Chloramine (TAC) will hold a public meeting at Hardesty Regional Library, 8316 E. 93rd Street, on Monday, November 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm. The speaker is Robert Bowcock, a nationally-known specialist on public water systems with a particular interest in secondary disinfection and the health and environmental impacts of different methods. Bowcock has been working with TAC to develop and promote safer alternatives to the use of chloramine. The meeting will also discuss cities across the country that are moving away from chloramine.

The City of Charlottesville, Virginia, recently decided not to adopt chloramine:

"Although the EPA approves the use of chloramine and deems it safe, 18 pages later they admit, a gap in research that needs to be filled is human health studies," chloramines opponent May Lau said, "That's a rather broad broad area - human health - to be a gap."

Other news coverage of the use of chloramine in Tulsa:

This Land Press: August 2012: Chloramine Coming to Tulsa's Drinking Water
Tulsa Beacon: August 30, 2012: Thousands sign anti-chloramine petition
BatesLine: October 11, 2011: Chloramine controversy: Safe for Tulsa's water?

With the judicial and political options for voiding Obamacare now apparently off the table, the final hope to defeat the DMV-ization of the best medical system on the planet may be the vast law's inherent contradictions. Hastily and sloppily put together, there are loopholes in the law that may be big enough to drive all of Oklahoma through. But only if Oklahoma's elected officials continue to exercise their options under the law not to implement certain policies:

Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, writes in a recent email:

Those who favor limited government have a tremendous opportunity to derail the largest expansion of government in recent history - ObamaCare. If Oklahoma and other states refuse to create a health care exchange, ObamaCare will completely unravel.

Governor Fallin will play a big role in deciding whether or not to establish an exchange in Oklahoma. Please send a message to Governor Fallin and your state legislators urging them to opt out of the exchange. Now is the time to make your voice heard and do everything you can to oppose the health care takeover.

Exchanges are massive bureaucratic entities that will force Americans to buy health insurance. They will serve as the vehicle transporting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to private insurance companies. Each state is being pressured to create its own exchange because the federal government cannot otherwise direct the premium subsidies and enforce the various mandates.

And the law is clear: states are under absolutely no obligation to submit to the federal government and create an exchange.

If enough states opt out of the health care exchanges, Congress will have no choice but to reexamine the law. Without its subsidies and its mandates, ObamaCare cannot function. If we can block the exchange in Oklahoma, we can lead the country in blocking ObamaCare altogether!

This is the last stand in the battle to defeat President Obama's health care takeover, and we'll need every ounce of energy you can muster. Send a message to Governor Fallin and your state legislators right now! Let it be known you want no part of ObamaCare in Oklahoma!

Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed in September by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt challenges an an IRS rule that imposes a mandate on employers where the Obamacare law doesn't require it, in states which have not instituted a medical insurance exchange. According to a recent story in Business Insurance:

While the ramifications of the suit pending in the U.S. District Court in Muskogee, Okla., are huge, the challenge brought last month has gotten little attention...

What is clear is that the outcome of the lawsuit could be crucial for the future of the health care reform law, observers said.

If premium subsidies are not available in federally established exchanges, "No one would go to those exchanges. The whole structure created by the health care reform law starts to fall apart," said Gretchen Young, senior vice president-health policy at the ERISA Industry Committee in Washington.

"The health care reform law would become a meaningless law," added Chantel Sheaks, a principal with Buck Consultants L.L.C. in Washington.

A few news items of interest, while you wait for me to publish some sort of analysis of last Tuesday's results:

Reuters: Special Report: How a vicious circle of self-interest sank a California city -- long, but a must-read:

Yet on close examination, the city's decades-long journey from prosperous, middle-class community to bankrupt, crime-ridden, foreclosure-blighted basket case is straightforward -- and alarmingly similar to the path traveled by many municipalities around America's largest state. San Bernardino succumbed to a vicious circle of self-interests among city workers, local politicians and state pension overseers.

Little by little, over many years, the salaries and retirement benefits of San Bernardino's city workers -- and especially its police and firemen -- grew richer and richer, even as the city lost its major employers and gradually got poorer and poorer.

Unions poured money into city council elections, and the city council poured money into union pay and pensions. The California Public Employees' Retirement System (Calpers), which manages pension plans for San Bernardino and many other cities, encouraged ever-sweeter benefits. Investment bankers sold clever bond deals to pay for them. Meanwhile, state law made it impossible to raise local property taxes and difficult to boost any other kind....

Almost 75 percent of the city's general fund is now spent solely on the police and fire departments, according to a Reuters analysis of city bankruptcy documents - most of that on wages and pension costs.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is bringing in a retired Marine Corps major general to take over the state parks department, filling a vacancy left by financial scandal.

Jackson replaces Ruth Coleman, an economist and lobbyist who led the parks department for a decade. She resigned in July amid revelations that the department had hidden $54 million in two special funds, even as it was planning to close 70 state parks to achieve state budget cuts.

Numerous other staff members at parks headquarters were fired or reassigned in the wake of the discovery. About two-thirds of the hidden money remains in limbo and two investigations are ongoing....

Many state parks operate with help from small nonprofit groups. Amid the state budget crisis, many of these groups took on fundraising campaigns to avoid park closures, and some signed contracts to operate parks themselves.

The discovery of hidden funds came as a betrayal.

I've heard stories and perhaps you have, too, that this sort of thing happens routinely in government: Tuck some money away to spend on little luxuries and non-essentials that would never get legislative approval, then go crying to the public that you'll have to cut essential public services unless they give your department more money. I don't have my collection of Jim Boren's books on bureaucracy handy, but I wouldn't be surprised if he gave a name to this phenomenon.

And a general has lost a star for using government resources for personal pleasure:

A report by the Defense Department inspector general found that Ward used military vehicles to shuttle his wife on shopping trips and to a spa and billed the government for a refueling stop overnight in Bermuda, where the couple stayed in a $750 suite. The report detailed lengthy stays at lavish hotels for Ward, his wife and his staff members, and the use of five-vehicle motorcades when he traveled to Washington.

One of the most active social media accounts during the Vision2 campaign was @SayNotoVision2 on Twitter. I don't know who ran the account, but he or she was active on a daily basis, rebutting vague and misleading statements from proponents, and making the argument against Tulsa County's Vision2 sales tax scheme in clear, pithy comments.

@SayNotoVision2 announced on election night that there would be comments about the victory on Twitter at 10 am Wednesday morning. Here they are, in sequence from top to bottom:

@SayNotoVision2's victory speech

Anonymous Twitter account opposing Vision2 delivers a victory speech via Twitter.

Storified by Michael Bates · Thu, Nov 08 2012 11:26:28

First off, we want to thank those that worked longer hours to defeat #Vision2. Many taking time away from their families and jobs.Say No to Vision 2
You worked long hours and spent your own time and money to defeat #Vision2. Tulsa owes you their thanks.Say No to Vision 2
140 character limits don't make it easy to thank everyone individually. But, really, thank you for your efforts.Say No to Vision 2
#Vision2 was a horribly, let us repeat, horribly designed plan. Tulsans rejected it by wide margins.Say No to Vision 2
#Vision2 failed by a wider margin than the River Tax from 5 years ago.Say No to Vision 2
We respect @TulsaChamber as an organization that represents the interest of Tulsa businesses.Say No to Vision 2
We respect @TulsaChamber as a group working to create a better Tulsa.Say No to Vision 2
However, we will NEVER standby and watch our city & county governments be hijacked by special interests. #Vision2 was the epitome of that.Say No to Vision 2
We will NEVER standby and let @TulsaChamber use emotional blackmail as a scare tactic to intimidate voters.Say No to Vision 2
An honest and open approach works wonders with voters. Try it.Say No to Vision 2
We have Google, email, contacts, we know what goes on in the world and do not need you or any other group spreading falsehoods.Say No to Vision 2
It is high time @Tulsachamber & its leadership takes a long look in the mirror.Say No to Vision 2
If #Vision2 is your approach to dealing with Tulsa, you do not know this city, county, or its people. We will reject that approach.Say No to Vision 2
This wasn't about ballot language, or a PR firm, this was about a corrupt approach to solving Tulsa's problems. Voters said no.Say No to Vision 2
We know the importance of the airport to our regional economy. We value the jobs at American, Spirit, and IC Bus.Say No to Vision 2
At the end of the day, those are private businesses. Who must determine their own futures.Say No to Vision 2
Those facilities do belong to the people & a sensible plan to upgrade them must be developed.Say No to Vision 2
Tulsa County residents have 4 years to create an extension of #Vision2025 if they so choose.Say No to Vision 2
That extension is for the citizens of Tulsa County to decide. Not @TulsaChamber or any other special interest group.Say No to Vision 2
Bullying, threats, protection rackets, etc.. will not fly with us. Whether it's the Chamber or local leaders engaging in the practice.Say No to Vision 2
4 people: John Smaligo, Fred Perry, Karen Keith, and Mayor Bartlett could have prevented #Vision2. They didn't.Say No to Vision 2
Their failure of leadership has been noted.Say No to Vision 2
We will support any & all efforts to see all 4 removed from office at the ballot box. Tulsa deserves better than this.Say No to Vision 2
Until 2013, we are going hiatus. You can still tweet at us or send us a direct message.Say No to Vision 2
Again, thank you for your efforts in defeating #Vision2. We are proud of you, Tulsa, and Tulsa County.Say No to Vision 2
Until we meet again, may God bless Tulsa, and may God bless these United States of America. Thank you.Say No to Vision 2

I was in the KJRH 2 News studio election night, on a panel with news anchors Russ McCaskey and Karen Larsen and fellow analysts David Blatt of the Oklahoma Policy Institute and State Sen. Rick Brinkley to talk about state questions and other local results as they came in.

Here's our last panel segment, starting at 9:24 pm if I recall correctly, talking about Vision2. The Tulsa County Election Board didn't begin reporting any local results until about 9 p.m., so this is shortly after I got the first load results from about 20 precincts, showing strong swings to the "no" side compared to the 2007 river tax vote.

As we were getting ready to talk and watching live reports from the watch parties, I was delighted to spot my wife and kids at the Citizens for a Better Vision watch party at Tally's Cafe.

(Video after the jump, and you can also find it online: Vision2 fails to pass; supporters considering similar proposals for future ballots.)

I promise, I'll have more to say about all this very soon. As you might expect, all the chores that were deferred during the campaign are demanding attention.

Thumbnail image for IVoted.jpgHappy Election Day! Polls open in Oklahoma at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

Tonight, I'll be on KJRH's election night coverage, part of a panel discussing state and local elections. While the main channel carries NBC's national coverage, KJRH's digital subchannel 2.2 (Cox Cable 222) will focus on state and local elections. It will also be streamed live over the internet.

You can find the your cheat sheet to the 2012 Oklahoma election here: BatesLine 2012 Ballot Card.

Statewide, Oklahoma will elect seven presidential electors, will vote on six state questions, and will vote on the retention of state supreme court justices and appeals court judges. The only statewide office up for election this year is Corporation Commission; Bob Anthony won his fifth six-year term in the Republican primary, and Patrice Douglas, appointed to fill the unexpired term of Jeff Cloud, did not draw an opponent for election to the remainder of the term.

All five congressional districts have a Republican, a Democrat, and at least one independent on the ballot.

Tulsa County races were all decided in the primary or runoff (or not at all in a couple of cases), so, as if to prove that idle hands are the devil's workshop, the County Commissioners decided to put a sales tax on the ballot four years before it goes into effect. The marketing name is Vision2, but on the ballot it's Tulsa county propositions 1 and 2, and you can read all about it here:

In the Tulsa area, there are contested State Senate races in District 11, where Democrat State Rep. Jabar Shumate faces Republican Dave Bell and independent Curtis Mullins for an open seat, and District 39, where Republican Sen. Brian Crain is running for his final term, being challenged by Democrat and neighborhood leader Julie Hall.

The main event among the metro area State House races is the rematch in House District 71 between Republican schoolteacher Katie Henke and Democratic social service lobbyist Dan Arthrell. Henke was certified the winner in an April 3 special election, but the discovery of a couple of ballots for Arthrell in a ballot box led a judge to throw the election out and leave the seat vacant until the regular election.

There are also contested elections in Wagoner County's House District 12 (incumbent Democrat Wade Rousselot faces Republican challenger David Tackett), House District 23 (Republican Terry O'Donnell vs. Democrat Shawna Keller for an open seat), House District 66 (incumbent Republican Jadine Nollan vs. Democrat David Phillips), House District 72 (incumbent Democrat Seneca Scott vs. Republican Randall Reese), House District 76 (incumbent Republican David Brumbaugh vs. Democrat Glenda Puett), and House District 78 (incumbent Democrat Jeannie McDaniel vs. Republican Paul Catalano).

Almost lost in the shuffle are two city council races -- non-partisan and for two year terms under the charter amendments passed last year. District 1 incumbent Jack Henderson, a supporter of Vision2, is being challenged by Twan Jones, an opponent of Vision2. In District 7, incumbent Tom Mansur is on the ballot but has taken a job in Ardmore and will resign his seat if elected; his challenger is Arianna Moore. If Mansur wins and resigns as he intends, a special election would be called, as the next election for this seat, under the amendment passed last fall, will be in 2014.

Results should start rolling in soon after 7 p.m. The Oklahoma State Election Board website will update results as they are received from the county election boards. Although results are posted on each precinct door shortly after the polls close, a precinct's results have to be taken to the county election board to be read into the state election computer system.

After some significant difficulties with the outside company that provided election night results earlier this year, the Oklahoma State Election Board has developed its own in-house capability; the templates are already online. Data nuts will be able to download results by precinct for the entire state in one download -- a huge improvement over the previous system.

A few resources as you go to vote:

If you run into any difficulty voting or spot any irregularity, contact the your county election board. The phone number for the Tulsa County Election Board is 918-596-5780.

Posted 12:11 a.m. Tuesday, November 6, 2012. Postdated to remain at the top of the blog through poll closing time.

A couple of weeks ago, I was showing my six-year-old son the maps of past presidential election results on We scrolled through the years, as the nation's early parties came and went, noticed odd split-state results, and then looked at the projected map for this year, with red, blue, and beige states.

He wanted to figure out which way the beige swing states would go, so he had me scroll back and forth through the 2000, 2004, and 2008 maps, and for each state he picked the party that had won a state most often of the last three elections. (Not sure why he didn't want to go further back; maybe years that begin with 1 just seem too weird to him.)

Here's his map: Romney 285, Obama 253. Romney takes FL, VA, NC, OH, CO, NV, NH; Obama takes PA, MI, WI, IA.


My own guess? I think Obama wins NV, Romney wins WI and IA, plus one of the Maine congressional districts. Philadelphia voter intimidation keeps PA in Obama's column. Romney 296, Obama 242.

For your convenience, here is a list of the candidates I've endorsed, will be voting for, or otherwise recommend in the November 6, 2012, Oklahoma general election.

As I have time, I'll add links to endorsements I've already made, brief notes about those I haven't previously written about. Here's a link to the archive of BatesLine posts about Oklahoma Election 2012.

President and Vice President: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. They have a sensible plan for putting our economy back on track. Just to send the author of Obamacare -- and countless other taxes and regulations into retirement -- will give business owners the confidence to create new jobs. On the world front, the weak response to the attack on our diplomats abroad demands that we fire President Obama.

Congress, 1st District: Jim Bridenstine
Congress, 2nd District: Markwayne Mullin

Although I didn't endorse either of these gentlemen in the primaries, we need as many Republicans in the U. S. House as possible if we're to have any hope of undoing the damage of the Obama years, starting with a repeal of Obamacare.

County questions (aka Vision2):

Proposition 1: NO
Proposition 2: NO

These taxes will not go into effect for more than four years, and will still be in effect until the end of 2029. Please note carefully what the ballot says. It's not what you've been hearing in all the ads.

Judicial retention:

State Supreme Court: NO on all. They think it is their place to stop Oklahoma voters from passing legislation that might be appealed to the Supreme Court. They're wrong.

State questions:

SQ 758: NO
SQ 759: YES
SQ 762: NO
SQ 764: NO
SQ 765: YES
SQ 766: YES

Legislative races in general: Never forget that when you vote for a legislative candidate (U. S. Senate, U. S. House, state rep, or state senator), you're also casting a vote for that candidate's party to control that chamber, to appoint committee chairmen and control the flow of legislation. I urge conservatives to vote Republican in legislative races. For all the disappointments we've had with Republican leadership at the state capitol, remember that it's better than the alternative. On the sanctity of human life, Oklahoma has made significant advances under GOP legislative leadership, passing bills that were routinely killed in committee when Democrats controlled the State Senate.

House District 71: Katie Henke. It's a choice between a smart, conservative Republican and a Democrat whose job has been to push for bigger government. The opposition to Henke has run a nasty and dishonest campaign against this thoughtful schoolteacher.

Senate District 39: If Julie Hall were a pro-life conservative Republican; or if Brian Crain were a staunch supporter of neighborhoods and a staunch opponent of corporate welfare, this would be an easy decision, but they're not, and it isn't. Republican Brian Crain has been a disappointment on issue after issue, and yet he carried the pro-life personhood bill in the legislature. Hall is the more sensible of the two on Vision2, and she knows from personal experience the importance of anti-SLAPP legislation to protect our freedom of speech.

Tulsa City Council District 1: Twan Jones, the challenger, who opposes Vision2. While I've supported the incumbent in many past elections for standing against the Cockroach Caucus, it appears that he has made his peace with the powers that be, supporting a regressive sales tax that does little to help his constituents. Time for a change.

Tulsa City Councilor Blake Ewing has a blog post out today explaining his opposition to Vision2 Tulsa County Proposition 1 in great detail, addressing the "deal closing fund" and the "airport part" in separate sections, and it's worth reading in full, but here are a few highlights (emphasis added):

As I've at times been the media's poster boy for the "anti-Vision" side, I figure it best to clarify my position in the few days remaining before the vote. I apologize for not doing this sooner. It's been difficult for me to discern the best approach on this and I fear that I may have done a disservice by not being more vocal through the process. If I would have consented, our local media would have had me on TV and radio every day and I just didn't want it to be about me. Also, many of the pro-Vision folks are taking it very personally and I've been troubled by the damage my opposition has caused to some those relationships.

So Councilor Ewing is experiencing first-hand what happens when you rock the boat in what I've called Tulsa's yacht-guest subculture.

Ewing makes some great points about what the push for a deal-closing fund says about Tulsa:

Trying to grow our city's employment base by paying companies to come here (or buying or building things for them), ensures that we'll attract the kind of companies who can be bought. I'm just not into building Tulsa's economic future on the backs of companies we lured here with money. Better to meet a nice girl and settle down than to... pay for one... right? I'd rather see us be the best city in the world to start a business, grow a company, raise a family, etc. There are things we could be doing to grow new industries, support small business development, inspire entrepreneurship, etc., and we won't have to worry about those folks packing up and leaving for the highest bidding community because they have roots here.

Last point on this one: Does it bother anyone else that our area leadership seems to be of the opinion that the only way to grow business in our area is to pay companies to come here? It's depressing to me... and it's not the kind of leadership Tulsa deserves. Expect better from the people you elect... and from the people tasked with growing Tulsa's business community.

Ewing also explains why this is on the ballot now, four years before the tax goes into effect and before we have any clarity on the future of bankrupt American Airlines. If you thought it was cynical political manipulation, you guessed right (emphasis added):

There is simply no good reason why we're voting on this now except that the people who put it together wanted to capitalize on the community concern for job loss and the timing of the presidential election, with the emphasis being on the latter. They stated repeatedly in the two meetings I was in that the consultant said the best chance of passing something like this is in a large election. The reason being, a well-funded campaign over a short period of time can beat unfunded and disorganized opposition if you can pound the lightly informed masses with media in the weeks leading up to the vote. We rushed this whole thing so it could be on the November ballot. Nobody at the airport was pressing for this timeframe. That came straight from The Chamber....

Spirit and Navistar didn't even ask for the upgrades. The Chamber asked them to make a list of their needs so that we weren't just putting American Airlines improvements on a list. While there are some needs at those two plants, they were not considered to be pressing. With all of the things in our community that we could be doing to promote and encourage job growth, investing in facilities for employers who weren't even asking for it to provide PR cover seems...

Ewing confirms what I suspected: Our local mis-leaders were following the advice of former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste, and what I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you didn't think you could do before." The Chamber has been wanting a big pile of money to play with for years, and they're using worry about jobs to get one.

Something Ewing doesn't mention: County commissioners have said they won't release the funds if they don't get iron-clad commitments from the beneficiary companies. If the authority that oversees the Prop 1 money can't come to terms with the intended recipients, if American, Spirit, and Navistar don't want the strings that come attached to the improvements and equipment, guess where the airport improvement money goes? Into the deal-closing fund. (Read the ballot resolution carefully. There's no minimum amount that they've promised to spend on the airport.)

All sales tax revenues in excess of the amounts necessary to complete the above listed projects (not to exceed $254,000,000.00 in total) plus any advance funding costs associated therewith shall be used to fund land, buildings, infrastructure and other capital improvements for the purpose of promoting economic development within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, including funding job creation programs....

Thank you, Councilor Ewing, for taking a bold stand in opposition to this mess.

One possible outcome of Tuesday's vote is the defeat of Proposition 1 and the passage of Proposition 2. Many voters hear about proposed projects and think, "what the heck."

There are plenty of reasons to turn down Prop 2. Here are just a few:

We're voting in 2012 on a tax that won't be collected until 2017. Only debt-laden advance-funded projects will be started before then. We don't know who will be president, what state the economy will be in, or what our greatest needs will be more than four years from now. We should wait until 2016 to make any decisions about a tax to replace the Vision 2025 tax that expires at the end of that year.

We're tying up revenue until the day before 2030. If Vision2 passes and a more urgent needs arises between now and then, we'll have to raise taxes to meet it.

The Vision2 Prop 2 tax can only be spent on capital improvements. Cities can use Vision2 money to build things, but not to maintain or operate them. If instead a city passed a city tax to replace Vision 2025, the city would have the flexibility to decide how best to allocate the money between building new stuff and fixing and maintaining what we already have. Remember that it was the cost of operating our swimming pools that led Mayor Bill LaFortune to shut most of them down.

Specific to Tulsa County's list of projects:

Tulsa County included the juvenile justice facility in the 2005 4 to Fix 2 package. They said they could meet that urgent need for $2.5 million. Instead they sat on it and are now asking for $38 million to build a brand new facility. They should do what they promised with the revenue we've already given them.

Tulsa County taxpayers have put tens of millions of dollars into Expo Square over the past decade. Now all the facilities are new or significantly modernized. Expo Square has just reached a very lucrative deal with the Creek Nation. It's time for Expo Square to use its operating revenue to fund the kind of minor improvements slated for Vision2.

Specific to the City of Tulsa's tentative list of projects:

The plan for spending the Vision2 money was thrown together haphazardly, based more on how many supporters showed up at the meetings than on the strategic impact of the proposed project.

Tulsa would have more money to spend and could spend more time developing a strategic plan to spend it if we vote down Vision2 and plan to vote in our own city tax to replace Vision 2025 when it expires at the end of 2016.

$5 million for Gilcrease Expressway is a token amount, not enough to accomplish any significant progress on a road that will cost around $800 million to complete as designed, but apparently just enough to buy the support of a few gullible politicians.

Tulsa Children's Museum may be a worthy cause, but it's a private organization, not a public entity. Why should money be taken from me by coercion to support a private organization? (Personally, I think better kid-friendly exhibits at existing museums would do more to get children excited about art, science, history, etc., than a separate museum that tries to cover all topics and does none of them well.)

Tulsa Library, TCC, OU, OSU, Langston -- all worthy institutions, but all of them already have their own sources of taxpayer dollars. The amount designated for each seems arbitrary, not linked to specific projects that need a certain amount to complete. Why divert money to them that could instead be used toward the City of Tulsa's own massive capital improvement backlog?

There are a couple of serious flaws with the Vision2 poll that was published today in the Tulsa World and conducted by The results weren't too surprising, and they may very well match what we see on election day, but nevertheless the results should be taken with a big grain of salt.

I commend for being transparent enough about their approach that the limitations imposed by that approach can be discussed. Here's their disclosure:

A poll of 440 likely voters was conducted by, using a random digit dialing technique that included both cell phone and landline telephone numbers.

Interviewers collected the data Oct. 25-Nov. 1. Results were weighted by gender and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both). The poll was sponsored by the Tulsa World.

The margin of error is plus or minus 4.67 percentage points. This poll conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls. A complete description of the methodology can be found here.

In's detailed description of their methodology, they write:

A detailed methodology that discloses sampling errors and statistical tests of significance will be made available for every survey conducted by Among other data,'s methodology reports will include sample sizes and disposition reports.

So far, they don't seem to have published sample size and disposition reports for this survey.

The biggest problem first: You can't simply add independent samples and use the total as the margin of error of the aggregate. In their disclosure, effectively tells us that they took a sample of six separate populations, then weighted them according to their estimate of the percentage each subset contributes to the total electorate.

Margin of error is mathematically tied to sample size. (You can find a margin of error calculator here.) As your sample size gets bigger the margin of error decreases. The MOE for a sample of 440 from a homogeneous population is indeed plus or minus 4.67 percentage points.

But what we have here are samples of six separate populations (men with cell phones, men with land lines, men with both, women with cell phones, women with land lines, women with both) that together add up to 440 respondents.

In the best case scenario, they got 73 responses from each group. That's a MOE of 11.47 for each of the six samples. You can't simply add six separate samples with an MOE of 11.47 and magically get a lower MOE when you combine them. At best, your MOE is plus or minus 11.47 percentage points, but then there's also the potential for error in the weight you assign to each sample.

Legal Insurrection has a good overview of polling sample size and margin of error.

The next problem: How do you know your respondents are really likely voters?

Let me acknowledge that it is far more difficult for candidates to get information to the voters and for pollsters to get information from the voters than it was in the days when everyone had a landline, no one had a mobile phone, no one had caller ID, and almost everyone had a listed number. Today, you might get a phone to ring, but no one will pick up because they don't recognize the number. I hear that the ratio of completed responses to dialing attempts is typically less than 10%.

There is a great deal of debate in the polling community as to how to compensate for these challenges. One approach, which Sooner Poll has taken here, is to dial numbers randomly, then ask a series of screening questions to determine whether the respondent is likely to vote. Each pollster has his own set of screening questions. Some may be as simple as asking the voter to rate his own likelihood of voting, some may involve asking the voter if he knows where his polling place is.

The other approach is to use past voting history to identify likely voters. In Oklahoma and in most other states, the election board keeps a record of the elections in which you voted and by what method (in person on election day, absentee by mail, absentee in-person at the election board). A pollster can match voter records with phone numbers and then call only registered voters, or screen more tightly based on past voting frequency and recency of registration. There are problems with that approach too -- voters without landlines, voters who move but continue to vote at their old address, ambiguities in matching voter names to phone subscriber names.

Pollster John McLaughlin (not the TV pundit) explained the problems with random-digit-dial polling about a month ago in the context of the presidential race:

So recently it was revealed by the Daily Caller that Obama's most senior campaign strategist David Axelrod has been lobbying Gallup Poll staffers saying that their polls were "saddled with some methodological problems". Dick Morris reported that Axelrod was upset at Gallup for "generating polling data negative to the President." Gallup didn't change their methods and by coincidence found the Justice Department suing them with an unrelated lawsuit. You only have to wonder if these other media pollsters received emails, calls and visits about the correct Axelrod methodology.

So what's the common Axelrod methodology that causes the media polls to under count Republicans? Are they calling registered voters from the publicly available lists with actual voter history? Those lists easily reflect the 130 million voters who turned out in 2008, or 2010, or have registered since those elections. They truly represent the actual voter population. Good scientific sampling would say pull a random sample of voters from the actual population of voters.

However, David Axelrod has been urging pollsters to randomly dial phones exchanges and cell phone exchanges and merge them somehow without regard to voter affiliation. The 2010 Census said that the American Voting Age Population was over 230 million adults. About 40% don't vote. Calling the 100 million eligible adults who choose not to register, or are registered, but don't vote, waters down enthusiastic Republicans. Who knows if the person who is talking to the NBC pollster is really registered to vote? Overall there's about a quarter of a million landlines in the United States that could be called. Plenty more than actual voters. However, if that doesn't dilute the Republicans enough, there's over 330 million wireless cell phone connections in the United States that can be randomly dialed.

So these swing state media pollsters are just randomly dialing the phone book and cell phone listings to water down Republican votes. The deck is stacked. Regardless how Mitt Romney does tonight he can't win the post debate polls - unless they call voter lists and make sure the demographics match the real voter file for age, gender, race geography and even party.

Then there's the duration of the survey period: It took them a full week to collect a sample, by which time the first people they contacted may have changed their minds.

Finally, they haven't disclosed how the questions were worded. Voters won't see words like "Vision2," "deal-closing fund," or "low-water dam" on the ballot, and they might have a different reaction to the pollster's question than they would to the actual ballot language.

It may be that all these flaws cancel each other out, and I don't mean to cast blame on, which is no doubt doing its best to gauge public sentiment in an increasingly difficult environment. We'll find out on Tuesday.

Why does it matter? Poll results can be used to create a bandwagon effect, particularly when an issue isn't strongly partisan. Without any strong sense of what to do, some voters will go along with whichever side they see in the majority. That's why, if you're in opposition to Vision2, you need to post it on your Facebook wall, put a sign in your yard, and send an email to friends explaining why you're voting no.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife is opposed to new dams on the Arkansas River, according to a Public Radio Tulsa news story on the impact of low-water dams on the river's water and wild animals. The Tulsa City Council has included $71 million for modifying the Zink Lake dam and for construction of a new dam near Jenks in their tentative list of projects to be funded by the Tulsa County Vision2 sales tax scheme.

Chris Whisenhunt, fisheries biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, says the Department is opposed to any new dams on the river.

He says that sediment buildup in Zink Lake has created water quality that's too poor for some of the river's most important species fish. He says Zink Dam should be improved if possible, because it's a safety concern, and because updates might improve water quality.

He also says the Department would welcome better dam designs, but that it's skeptical whether that would actually happen.

"Currently our only example of what will happen to the Arkansas River is what Zink Lake is right now," he said, "and that is a very poor habitat for most of our sport fish."

The only unequivocally positive comment in the story about new dams comes from Gaylon Pinc, who works for PMg, the company hired sole-source by the Tulsa County Industrial Authority to provide program management services for Vision 2025 and other Tulsa County tax packages and which would likely be hired for the same purpose should Vision2 be approved by the voters.

Pinc reportedly attempts to perpetuate the revisionist myth that voters were only voting for studies of building dams in the 2003 Vision 2025 vote.

2025 didn't include enough money to construct any additional low water dams on the Arkansas, just to study their possible environmental effects.

The "vote yes" bunch tried to make this claim back in 2007, when the county river tax was on the ballot, but a look at the Vision 2025 ballot propositions and the way the tax was sold to the voters makes it clear that voters were led to expect dams to be built if Vision 2025 passed. See my blog entry, "Randi's river revisionism", and my column from the same week Dams, not studies, promised in Vision 2025, for a thorough rebuttal.)

The Public Radio Tulsa story also cites concerns from the head of the Tulsa Audubon Society about the impact of new dams on wildlife habitat:

Fifteenth and Riverside, looking out over the Arkansas River, doesn't exactly feel like the kind of exotic locale where you'd expect to find an endangered species.

As it turns out, however, there is a threatened bird that makes its home right here on the river, at least for part of the year.

John Kennington, president of the Tulsa Audubon Society, points out Zink Island, "which is a sand island in the middle of the Arkansas River."

"This is an area that the least terns use to nest on," he said.

That's interior least terns he's talking about, Tulsa's very own endangered bird. The tern is a small species of bird that's currently flown South for the winter.

But Kennington says, when they're here, "they like to nest on a sandy gravelly open area, so the Zink Island gives them some really good habitat for their nests."

You won't find that kind of habitat on a river like the Mississippi. That's because the Arkansas River, in our area at least, is a special kind of waterway, known as a "braided prairie stream."

While I can understand the feelings of those who would like to see a lake in place of the river that we have, I have to wonder whether it makes enough of a difference to make it worth the investment. The changes of the river over the year have a certain fascination. When the water level is low enough, you can see the shelf of shale, right at the bend of the river, that was once a natural ford.

Of course, it's silly for the "vote yes" bunch to claim that Vision2 will "put water in the river." The best we can hope for is to detain water that comes to us from upstream.

Will water in the river really attract the Creative Class to Tulsa, as some claim? Austin has dammed up the Colorado River to form a narrow lake, but it isn't the major draw for young creatives. On my visits to Austin, I observed a small number of joggers and cyclists, but no large gatherings drawn by water in the river. What keeps Austin weird is to be found away from the river on South Congress, Sixth Street, and especially on and near the University of Texas campus.

Wichita has water in their river, but no significant development alongside it. The big draws for young adults are Old Town and East Douglas, not the river.

Old buildings seem to be a stronger draw than water features for young people. Back in 2007, I wrote about a visit to downtown Orlando, Florida, on a Saturday night:

Downtown Orlando has shiny new skyscrapers, a basketball arena, and a beautiful 23-acre lake with a fountain. But I didn't find the crowds around any of those. There were only a few people walking the path around Lake Eola, and the sidewalk along Central Boulevard next to the lake was empty except for me.

Instead, the throng of twentysomethings was promenading up and down four blocks of Orange Avenue, a street lined with old commercial buildings in use as bars, cafes, and pizza joints. The same kind of development stretched for a block or two down each side street. There were hot dog stands on every corner. Pedicabs ferried people to and fro. The numbers of partiers only grew larger as the little hand swept past 12.

Let me spell it out for you. In the heart of this modern, sprawling tourist mecca, in the midst of sparkling office towers, a sports arena, and a palm-lined lake, crowds of young people were drawn to 100-year-old buildings which had managed to escape the wrecking ball. The popularity of these buildings did not seem to suffer from being nowhere near the water.

These buildings were the exactly the sort of you find in Tulsa's Blue Dome, Brady, Brookside, South Boston, and Cherry Street districts, the sort that were demolished by urban renewal in Greenwood and where the Williams Center now stands.

The same dynamic, one documented by Jane Jacobs in her 1960 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is at work in Orlando, Tulsa, and cities from coast-to-coast: Old buildings provide a place for new businesses to take root. They provide an opportunity for people with dreams and ideas but not much capital to get something started and improve it over time.

TulsaNow, which has announced its opposition Tulsa County's Vision2 tax scheme, has developed Vision 2029, a detailed example of an alternative, showing one possible scenario of what the City of Tulsa could accomplish if Vision2 is voted down and the City of Tulsa enacts a tax of its own to go into effect when the Vision 2025 tax expires. The Vision 2029 plan spends $511 million of about $558 million that a 13-year, 0.6 cent City of Tulsa sales tax could generate. From the introduction:

We believe the successor to Vision2025 should be better planned, more thought out, and have wider reaching goals. However, it's easy to dismiss those statements as pipe dreams, so we thought it would be easier to show you. We put together a package that would meet the same general funding criteria as Vision2, but ours would only tax the City of Tulsa. This means our example actually collects less than Vision2, but we think it can show how you can do so much more with it....

This is only an example, but we think this is a great way to show how you can do much better than Vision2. Do you want a safer, cleaner, more sustainable city? Then vote NO on Vision2 and tell your City and County leaders you want a Vision for 2029, not a Vision for 2 years from now.

Rather than fund tenant-specific equipment (e.g. an engine test cell for American Airlines), TulsaNow would fund the "majority of the facility improvements requested... but no purchasing of equipment for work that may never be performed in Tulsa." That brings the price tag down from $254 million to $95 million. TulsaNow's Vision2029 still has money for infrastructure to help new job creators, but the fund would be limited to "water, sewer, roads, site cleanup" and would "be controlled by city council following a strict set of guidelines."

TulsaNow's Prop 2 includes almost all of the city's Vision2 wish list, plus much more, including student housing to serve the OSU-Tulsa and Langston campuses, Red Fork Main Street redevelopment, the Art Deco Museum, and bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements.

Vision2 includes money for building new things, but no money to run them and keep them going. TulsaNow would dedicate 0.1 cent of the 0.6 cents for operational costs -- $60 million (about $5 million a year) to make bus service more frequent, $20 million for additional public safety personnel, and $5 million for parks, mowing, and greenspace maintenance.

Personally, I'd prefer a city replacement for Vision 2025 to include much more for basic infrastructure, and I'd hope we wouldn't simply hand out money like candy to the colleges "just because."

But that's not the point of TulsaNow presenting an alternative. TulsaNow is saying that there's something much bigger and much better for Tulsa if we will vote down sloppy, hasty Vision2 on Tuesday, then have a serious and strategic look at our city's needs, leading to a package that nearly every Tulsan can support with enthusiasm. There's time to do this right.

How in the world can you fairly assess the value of intangible property? And if you can't fairly assess it, how in the world can you fairly tax it? That's why Oklahomans should welcome the opportunity to approve SQ 766 and abolish this arbitrary tax which has only been tolerable until now because it has only been applied to a small number of big companies.

SQ 766, proposed to Oklahoma's voters by the State Legislature, would strike nearly all of the very wordy Article X, Section 6A of the Oklahoma Constitution, and replace it with the following simple language:

Beginning January 1, 2013, intangible personal property shall not be subject to ad valorem tax or to any other tax in lieu of ad valorem tax within this State.

Article X, Section 6A, was added to the Constitution by State Question 460 to prohibit the legislature from levying ad valorem tax on specific categories of intangible property. It passed by about a three-to-one margin on the August 27, 1968, state primary ballot.

Once again, here's a quick summary of how I plan to vote on all the questions:

SQ 758: NO
SQ 759: YES
SQ 762: NO
SQ 764: NO
SQ 765: YES
SQ 766: YES

And once again we turn to State Sen. Rick Brinkley, who is graciously allowing me to post his analysis of and explanation of the history of SQ 766 here on BatesLine:

State Question 766 - Ends the Taxation of Intangible Property

This is Part 2 of my response to some of you who asked my opinion on the 6 State Questions on the Ballot on Tuesday. Part One dealt with changes in the Department of Human Services. Please look at my Wall if you would like to read that post and a three sentence history on why every year there are state questions on the ballot.

Failure for SQ 766 to pass will result in the largest tax increase in state history.

Please excuse my very elementary explanation of this issue:

Definition: TANGIBLE Property is property that you can wrap your hands around. If you own a McDonald's, Tangible Property is the building, the fryers, tables and Chairs, etc. INTANGIBLE PROPERTY is the "name" McDonald's (what is the "brand" worth?), Client Lists, Software developed by employees (A McDonald's Franchise may not be a good example for that one), and the institutional knowledge your employees possess, etc.

History: For years, counties did not really evaluate or charge tax on Intangible Property. However, the Board of Equalization assessed an Intangible Tax on large entities like Utilities, Railroads, etc. These companies are called "Centrally Assessed" companies, because they were not assessed on a County-by-County basis. It is important to note that even "Centrally Assessed" companies were not actually assessed a tax based on an actual determination of their Intangible Property, but rather it was calculated on a Unit Basis....meaning if your company was assessed at a certain tangible property amount, a certain percentage was calculated to be your Intangible Tax. Several years ago a company challenged its being taxed on intangibles to the State Supreme Court. They claimed it was unfair because other companies were not taxed for intangibles (just the Centrally Assessed Companies). The State Supreme Court ruled that not only was the Intangible Tax Constitutional, it could be assessed against all companies in the state as well as individuals.

Your Decision to Make: The question before you is "Should We Eliminate Taxation on Intangible Property?" My answer to that question is "YES." First, by the mere definition of "Intangible", it is not something that is easily determined and the variance from County to County and Assessor to Assessor could be great. How does the government assess the value of your company's name and then tax you on it? Also, please be reminded that these companies and, especially, small business owners have already paid income tax on the company's income and the salary they have paid themselves. Now, to "double dip" and tax them again on the Intangible Value of what they created seems inherently wrong to me. They will, of course, continue to pay Tangible Property Tax, Income Tax, Unemployment Tax, Payroll Taxes, etc. Plus, the taxes they pay as individuals.
We also should not pick and choose who pays Intangible Taxes. We either all pay them or none of us pay them, but we can't (in my opinion) say we only want certain companies to pay the tax and not others. We have also not addressed the issues related to taxation of Intangibles on individuals.

Opposition: The Oklahoma Tax Commission estimated the cost to eliminate the Intangible Tax would be approximately $50 million (meaning it would not collect approximately $50 Million of taxes on companies currently paying the Intangible Tax.) However, it provided no methodology for its calculations. Please remember, those companies which currently pay tax on Intangibles are really paying a "Unit Valuation" that the government uses to determine what they will charge them as their "Intangible Tax". It is not currently based on actual/factual determination of a company's Intangible worth. Those who oppose this state question do not want to see a reduction in the amount of money the state collects. However, many of them freely admit they also do not want this kind of tax to go into effect on individuals, small business owners, farmers, ranchers, etc.

It is impossible for the Tax Commission to estimate the magnitude of the taxes to be collected if Intangibles were to be taxed; however, some estimates put it between a $300 - $400 million tax increase.

My Opinion: State Question 766 needs to pass in order to be fair to Individuals/Businesses in this state, to prevent the largest tax increase in state history, and to help all businesses, especially small business owners, succeed.

Here's OCPA's analysis:

Summary: This measure would exempt all intangible personal property -- e.g. patents, inventions, formulas, designs, trade secrets, licenses, franchise, contracts, land leases, mineral interests, insurance policies, custom computer software, trademarks, trade names and brand names -- from property taxes. Historically the state has not taxed intangible personal property, except for some small instances of centrally assessed property for a small number of businesses. This measure is to respond to a recent Oklahoma Supreme court ruling mandating that all intangible personal property not specifically exempted is subject to property tax.

What's at stake: From a free-market, limited-government perspective, preventing property taxes on intangible personal property would serve as an incentive to entrepreneurship and prevent a massive intrusion of government into people's lives. Only ten states assess property taxes on intangible personal property as interpreted by the Oklahoma Supreme court and such an expansion of taxing authority would likely be the largest tax increase in state history. Things such as a person's interest in a public pension, the reputable name of a small family business, intellectual work during college and a host of other "intangibles" would now be subject to "valuation" and taxation by government bureaucrats. Ultimately, this state question is pretty cut and dry, a "Yes" vote ensures that all intangible property is exempt from property tax. A "No" vote subjects all intangible property to property tax.

State Question 765 is a legislative referendum to amend Article XXV of the Oklahoma Constitution by repealing sections 2, 3, and 4 and adding a new section 6. I support this question because it makes the Oklahoma Department of Human Services fully accountable to our elected officials and thus more accountable to the voters.

Those of us with long memories will recall Lloyd Rader's 31-year reign as head of the Department of Public Welfare. He was forced to resign after a series of national exposés revealed rampant neglect, the apparent use of patronage to control legislators who might have attempted to rein him in, and the use of state funds to hire detectives to follow and harass the reporters investigating him. A Tulsa Tribune political cartoon of the period depicted Rader as an octopus with his tentacles wrapped around the State Capitol. (One of Rader's few defenders after the scandal broke? State Sen. Gene Stipe.)

While there have been legislative reforms of the department, the constitutional structure that allowed such concentration of power and lack of accountability remains in place.

If you click that link, you'll see that there was some debate about how best to represent this question on the ballot, because the names currently in use for these agencies and roles don't match their constitutional names.

Here's a quick summary of how I plan to vote on all the questions:

SQ 758: NO
SQ 759: YES
SQ 762: NO
SQ 764: NO
SQ 765: YES
SQ 766: YES

State Sen. Rick Brinkley (R-Collinsville) has written an excellent article on why SQ 765 should be approved, and he prefaces it by explaining briefly why we have so many state questions each year. With his permission, I'm publishing it here at BatesLine.

State Question 765 - The Most Poorly Written of the State Questions on the Ballot.

Some of you have asked my opinion on the 6 State Questions on the Ballot on Tuesday. I will attempt to share some light on a few of them over the next several days. But, first, you have to have a bit of history on the reason there are state questions every year for you to consider. The State of Oklahoma has the longest Constitution of any state and ours is far longer than the constitution of the United States and most other Nations from around the world. Everything from the definition of Beer to the Flash Point of Kerosene is in the Constitution. In all practical senses, any change to the Constitution requires a vote of the people.

In the 1930s, what is now called the Department of Human Services was made a Constitutional Agency. This means that it answers to a Commission established in the Constitution and is subject to oversight by neither the Governor nor the Legislature, but strictly the Commission. The Department of Human Services currently employs over 7,000 people.

The State Question is written in such a way that it appears it completely does away with the Department of Human Services. In actuality, it does away with the Commission and makes the Department more accountable to the Governor and the Legislature. The number of children who have died while in DHS Custody and the number of Class Action Lawsuits filed in regard to poor performance are enough for most people to understand that with so little oversight this agency and its leadership have failed to deliver the services it needs to deliver with little fear of repercussion.

This is about policy and structure. There are thousands of DHS workers who are committed to their jobs and those that they serve and this should not be seen as an indictment of every DHS worker. Despite how poorly written the State Question is other laws already in place guarantee the continuation of the Department.

This State Question has wide bipartisan support, including support from former Commission members. In my experience, the only people I have read or heard who are against this state question are former Commission Members and former Top DHS Officials.

Those opposed to Question 765 blame the legislature for not funding the Department to the level they desire. Additional Funding will not correct the lack of Accountability and Bureaucracy that have failed to deliver the services our children and most vulnerable deserve. This enables Governor Fallin and future Governors to respond quickly to necessary changes that must be made in the Department. This places additional responsibilities upon our Governors to react to public outcry and not be forced to idly sit on their hands waiting for a commission to act.

Please vote "YES" on State Question 765.

(As an aside, you currently have approximately 8,000 children in YOUR CUSTODY. These are Children in Foster Care in our State. The people of Oklahoma are responsible for these children who have found themselves in your custody through no action of their own. We have a responsibility to provide for them the best we can and the best they deserve.)

If you're on Facebook, you can subscribe to Sen. Rick Brinkley's public updates, which are consistently thought-provoking and inspirational.

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