State Rep. Jason Murphey
This year’s legislative session was dominated by a group of “raise taxes at all costs” ideologues who deployed aggressive strategies to advance an array of principle-betraying tax and fee increases upon the people of Oklahoma.
In my last column, I wrote in some detail about the strategy of freshman pawning: a technique for getting new legislators to buy into and own key parts of the tax increase agenda.
Here is another effective tactic utilized by the tax increase ideologues to manipulate their colleagues into increasing taxes: The Great Armageddon Tour of 2017.
You may recall my description of optimism for this year’s session. Appropriations leaders not only held robust pre-session oversight hearings; they also announced that these hearings would be ongoing throughout the session.
This was great news! At first glance it appeared this would be the year the House would reform the appropriations process and start providing meaningful oversight over state spend.
I am a member of one of the appropriations subcommittees, and members of our committee quickly responded to the new oversight mandate.
We assembled a vast array of empowering documentation that show the actual budgets of state agencies, instead of just the legislatively appropriated funds.
My optimism quickly faded. I rather quickly realized that the ongoing hearing process wasn’t for holding agencies accountable — rather, it appeared designed for agencies to convince legislators to raise taxes.
Here’s what happened. Appropriations officials only allowed each subcommittee to hold a single oversight hearing of each of their agencies. Appropriators then announced that instead of staying within their assigned subcommittee and engaging in true oversight, legislators would be placed on a rotating schedule. Each week they would be assigned to a new subcommittee.
At first glance this appeared to be a thoughtful policy. Instead of being limited to the purview of some agencies, legislators would be involved in the hearings of all agencies. At least that’s how it was explained.
The actual effect of this new policy was to overwhelm legislators with what I labeled, “The Great Armageddon Tour of 2017.”
Instead of real oversight and drilling down to the specifics of actual agency spend, I believe legislators were treated to a weekly brainwashing session from a new rotation of agency leaders who boldly predicted an Armageddon of death and destruction if legislators did not acquiesce to their fiscal demands. This provided legislators will little opportunity for the follow-up and review that would have been possible had they stayed within their initial subcommittee.
Word soon emerged that agency leaders were being coached by the tax advocates on how to make their presentation to the Legislature. Most agency leaders need little coaching on making an appearance in an Armageddon tour. They simply deploy the age-old strategy of listing out the politically sacred cow programs that will be cut if the agency does not get their way.
This is a strategy that appears to have played out to its fullest extent in the recent decision of the Department of Human Services to cut back on certain politically sacred funding — notwithstanding the massive increase in that Department’s appropriations over the past few years. Deprived of actual oversight and subject to hours of death and destruction, it’s no wonder that many legislators became convinced that their only recourse was to raise taxes — even it if meant violating the Constitution to do so.
Had lawmakers been afforded actual oversight, I suggest that they wouldn’t be susceptible to strong arm agency tactics such as those currently being employed by DHS. And had they acted on that oversight and reduced the levels of inappropriate and inefficient spend, they wouldn’t currently be in a state of suspended panic at the upcoming court decision regarding the clear unconstitutionality of the tax increases.
Simply put, when the tax increases ideologues sponsored The Great Armageddon Tour of 2017, they did a massive disservice to both their legislative colleagues and the people of Oklahoma.
Editor’s Note: A Guthrie Republican, Murphey is serving his last term in the Oklahoma state Legislature. He is presently chairman of the Government Modernization Committee in the House of Representatives. Several recent commentaries from Rep. Murphy can be read at the CapitolBeatOK.com website. Follow Murphey’s weekly columns at his blog.