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Unfunded mandates threaten Oklahoma

Unfunded mandates threaten Oklahoma

The Oklahoman:
POINT OF VIEW: Let voters amend state constitution

Published: March 9, 2009




The looming threat of unfunded mandates could soon leave Oklahoma with a government that is either limited beyond a libertarian’s wildest dreams or imposing tax increases so large they would make a socialist uneasy.

That’s because special-interest groups, such as teachers unions, are trying to seize permanent control of an ever-larger share of taxpayer dollars for their own undefined purposes. In the case of the Oklahoma Education Association, the group has used the initiative process to ask voters to give up control of state spending decisions and actually cede that power to citizens of other states.

How? Their proposal would tie Oklahoma’s education expenditures to the average of a group of states in the region — effectively giving other states the ability to make spending decisions for Oklahomans without our input.

If approved, that measure would shift at least another $850 million, probably more, from other parts of government to "education,” although the group doesn’t define the term. Will the extra money be spent on classroom supplies and teacher salaries, or go to ever-increasing administrative overhead? The proposal doesn’t say. (Remember: That $850 million will be on top of the $2.5 billion already going to schools.)

The danger represented by unfunded mandates is very real. By requiring an $850 million shift, the mandate would effectively create a budget hole the same size as the one now facing Oklahoma. If the mandate is imposed during a similar recessionary year, the combined budget gap could total $1.7 billion for all other parts of government. We could literally wipe out road funding and public safety programs, and still not cover the gap.

The other option facing legislators under that scenario would be to increase taxes. But again, during a recession, hiking taxes across the board — especially if we’re talking about an increase of more than $1 billion overall — would be devastating to all families in the state and a guaranteed job killer.

That’s why I have filed House Joint Resolution 1014. The resolution would allow Oklahoma voters to amend our state constitution to prevent unfunded mandates from forcing draconian cuts in government without responsible voter oversight of state finances.

It would protect the right of the people to have input into how their tax dollars are used every year through the legislative process instead of giving them a one-and-done decision at the polls that would be locked in for eternity.

Oklahoma’s founders believed the people should always have a voice in how their tax money was spent, which is why the people were given the right to choose elected representatives to carry their message to the Capitol. That right would be forever diluted under a regime of unfunded mandates such as the OEA measure.

We must protect citizen involvement in and oversight of government spending — and HJR 1014 gives voters that opportunity.

Osborn, R-Tuttle, represents District 47 in the Oklahoma House.

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