Oklahoma Politics: April 2008 Archives

The good with the bad

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In the midst of a number of positive developments at the State Capitol over the last two weeks, there's been one grand disappointment, the sort of special deal for special interests that shouldn't happen when Republicans are in control, but all too often does.

So here's the good:

The Oklahoma Legislature overturned the governor's veto to enact an omnibus pro-life bill, SB 1878. The bill includes a provision to ensure that women seeking an abortion have a chance to learn the truth about the life growing within them while there's still time to make a better choice, rather than encountering the truth years later when the only choice is whether or not to feel remorse.

The House Education Committee and House Appropriations and Budget Committee passed SB 2093, which creates the New Hope Scholarship Credit, a tax credit for contributions to funds which give private-school scholarships to economically disadvantaged students in non-performing schools. Speaker Chris Benge and Speaker Pro Tempore Gus Blackwell personally intervened to keep the bill alive, using their position as ex officio members of all House committees to cast the deciding votes in the Appropriations Committee. Their intervention was required because one of the Republicans on the committee, Shane Jett, joined the Democrats in voting against the bill. (Jett is a past recipient of the Oklahoma Conservative PAC's RINO award.) The bill will come to the floor of the House for a vote on Tuesday.

The Legislature passed a constitutional amendment, SB 1987, limiting terms on all statewide officials. Governors have always been term-limited -- Dewey Bartlett was the first governor eligible for re-election in 1970 when governors were first allowed to serve two consecutive terms. Legislators have been term-limited since 1988, finally kicking in with the first forced retirements in 2004. The other statewide officials -- e.g. Attorney General, State Auditor and Inspector, State Treasurer, Corporation Commissioner -- are not currently subject to any limit. SB 1987 would subject them all to a 12-year lifetime limit and would change the Governor's limit to eight years total, not just eight consecutive years. Partial terms served by election or appointment to fill a vacancy wouldn't count against the total.

A voter ID bill, SB 1150, coauthored by Rep. Sue Tibbs and Sen. John Ford, was passed by the House and will come back to the Senate this week. (This link goes to an RTF file of the House amended version.) The bill requires voters to show proof of identity to the precinct judge:

The voter's valid voter identification card, driver license, passport, state identification card, a photocopy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government or tribal document that shows the voter's name and address may be used as proof of identity.

So that's all good and positive. Here's the bad:

The Legislature approved and the Governor signed SB 1819, which extends the Quality Jobs Act to apply to a particular industry: "those activities defined or classified NAICS Manual under U.S. Industry No. 711211 (2007 version)." That means "Sports Teams and Clubs." This is a special deal to pay $60 million in tax rebates to the multi-millionaires and billionaires who own the Sonics.

Usually, if Quality Jobs Act incentives are being paid out, a greater amount of income tax revenues are being paid in, thanks to the salaries being paid to those "quality jobs." But a special provision that applies only to "Sports Teams and Clubs" means the team gets the rebate for salaries even if the salaries aren't subject to Oklahoma income tax.

This wasn't a bill passed by Democrats with a few RINO supporters. This bill had the enthusiastic support of Speaker Benge and Senate Co-President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, the Republican leaders of the Legislature. Coffee's support is understandable: He represents Oklahoma City, which will enjoy any economic benefit from the Sonics' move. But Benge is a Tulsa representative, and it's hard to figure why he wants to tax his constituents in Tulsa for something that won't benefit them at all. It's hard to figure why any Tulsa representatives voted yes for this bill.

Benge spoke about how, with an NBA team, Oklahoma's name would be heard each game night as the sports scores are read on TV. Maybe he missed this, but that's been going on for years, as we always have a team in the college football Top 25 and almost always have a team in the college basketball Top 25. A mention on ESPN seems like a poor return on investment for $60 million. Even if it raises Oklahoma City's profile, it's hard to see how that benefits Tulsa or the rural parts of the state.

David Glover, at his Reverse Robin Hood website, has a list of the seven lobbyists who were hired by The Professional Basketball Club LLC (the group that owns the Sonics). Most of them are with CMA Strategies, a Republican firm that grew out of Cole Hargrave Snodgrass, U. S. Rep. Tom Cole's political consulting firm. Former State Rep. John Bryant (R-Tulsa) was also on the list. Sad to see consultants and politicians who once fought for fiscal sanity now lobbying for special deals for special interests.

Here's the final roll call vote in the House, and here's the Senate roll call (PDF).

Some of the same legislators who sponsored and supported the good legislation I list above were also supporters of this wasteful example of welfare for millionaires.

So we take the good with the bad with Republican control of the House and shared control of the Senate. Some of the Republicans who voted for the NBA subsidy are friends of mine and candidates that I've helped in elections past. Most of them are good legislators on balance and deserve re-election.

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma Politics category from April 2008.

Oklahoma Politics: March 2008 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma Politics: May 2008 is the next archive.

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