Watchdog Group Releases Policy Agenda

(Oklahoma City, OK)  Oklahomans for Responsible Government will continue to work for taxpayers at the State Capitol this year with an agenda aimed at stopping a ballot measure that will devastate the state’s economy, getting bills passed to better uncover waste, and improving access to the ballot.

State Question 744 could force lawmakers to decimate state agencies if approved by voters in November of 2010, so OFRG will continue its effort to educate voters on the effects of the mandate requested by the Oklahoma Education Association.  SQ 744 would shift $850-million from all other state agencies into education, forcing cuts of 20% or more on top of budget cuts being enacted now.  Alternatively, it would force a massive tax increase at a time when businesses and families are already struggling.  And if the state’s revenues stagnate, SQ 744 prohibits any decreases in state spending on education, so all other agencies would get cut twice as much.

“There is no doubt that State Question 744 is the most devastating problem on Oklahoma’s horizon and hardly anyone is talking about it,” said Brian Downs, OFRG executive director. “OFRG will be doing everything it can to get the truth out to voters so they can see that voting ‘No’ on State Question 744 is the right thing for Oklahoma.”

Following up on testimony last year before a House interim study, OFRG will call for upgrading the state’s transparency website to “Open Books 2.0” which will provide much more detailed information.  The goal is to have real-time spending posted on line for every state dollar spent in every agency.

“Oklahoma was a leader in transparency when Open Books was created,” said Downs.  “But the state has been bypassed by states like Texas and Missouri that provide their taxpayers with much more information.  We need to now leap-frog other states to become the example of taxpayer transparency.”

OFRG will also be working towards improving transparency at the more than 530 school districts in the state.  This includes changing the way districts get their annual audits which are currently performed by just 31 companies rather than the State Auditor’s office.  It also includes standardized accounting codes at school districts that remain the same for at least a year at a time.

“We understand that the State Department of Education has changed some accounting codes multiple times in a year,” said Downs.  “OFRG would like to see language from a bill proposed in 2008 put forward that keeps changes to a minimum and lets districts have a say before changes are enacted.”

The budget will be the main focus of this legislative session and OFRG believes tax increases should be off the table and that spending reductions should take priority over tapping the Rainy Day Fund or using any additional stimulus dollars.  “Lawmakers and the Governor need to remember that the 2012 budget could be even more difficult than this year’s budget because of massive holes left by stimulus dollars,” said Downs.  “If the Rainy Day Fund is raided this year to maintain wasteful spending, it will mean even larger cuts down the road.”