Stillwater News Press Writer Michelle Charles has a good report on State Auditor Gary Jones. An announced candidate for Governor, Jones objects to the current state budget process and advocates a 5-5-5 plan that would freeze the state income tax at 5 percent, return gross production tax to 5 percent and collect 5 percent production tax on wind generated energy.
Charles notes Jones, a Certified Public Accountant, fought hard “running for the office three times before being elected,” but fails to note why.
Jones fought the institutional corruption of the Oklahoma Democratic Party’s most historic flamboyant elected criminal, former-State Senator Gene Stipe, and the information Jones provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) resulted in criminal convictions for Stipe, former State Auditor Jeff McMahann and his wife Lori.
Jeff McMahan was sentenced in January 2009 to eight years and a month for taking bribes from a southeast Oklahoma businessman. Lori McMahan was sentenced to six years and six months on related charges.
Jones is known for being plain-spoken, no-nonsense and fiscally conservative, so the members of Stillwater Rotary weren’t surprised to hear him speak critically about this year’s state budget and what went into making it when he addressed the group Thursday.
He was critical of creative accounting and political game playing that has resulted in deep cuts to state agencies and affected services.
Jones describes a shell game-like process where money is taken from agency revolving funds then given back through legislative allocations to make it look like the agency budgets are being cut by much smaller percentages even they have much less to cover operating costs.
The state unclaimed property fund totals about $800 million but the state would be in trouble if everyone listed suddenly claimed it, he said. The state does an actuarial study to estimate how much is likely to be claimed each year and uses the rest to pay its bills.
“It’s a huge IOU,” Jones said.
He jokes that his office location on the first floor of the state capitol allows him and his staff to see the underbelly of what’s happening on the fourth floor where the House of Representatives and the Senate meet.