Monday, January 26, 2015

Rep. Josh Cockroft Announces Aggressive, Common Sense Conservative Agenda

    The first session of the 55th Oklahoma legislature will convene on February 2nd at 12:00 noon and the state’s legislators will begin deliberating over this year’s issues. This legislative session I will be aggressively pushing a common sense conservative agenda focused on the serious issues in our state. During the entire interim, I have been working, communicating, and consulting with constituents and am now ready to get to work moving our state forward. As I have done every year I have been in office, I am releasing my agenda for your viewing as we begin the legislative process.

My legislative focus will be centered around five core areas. I’ve outlined each of the measures below:

State Government Efficiency and Effectiveness

I have filed House Bill 1275, which couples election dates for school boards and municipalities. This will save tax dollars while encouraging greater voter participation in historically low-turnout races. My House Bill 1285 will prohibit agencies from increasing fees without proper justification and disclosure. My House Bill 1286 will require state agencies to develop contingency plans for times when the federal government makes funding reductions. My House Bill 1287 sets up an online presence for making Open Record requests. Two other reforms I will pursue are a constitutional amendment to make Oklahoma Supreme Court justices subject to a vote of the people and the creation of an Oklahoma Federal Funds Commission to study the state’s financial stability and dependency on the federal government.

Public Safety and County Government 

My House Bill 1276 updates current Oklahoma bomb squad statutes with clearer intent language and equips law enforcement to better prevent terrorist activities. My House Bill 1284 enables law enforcement to contract out mental health transports, saving resources and funds. My House Bill 1279 revises county government purchasing procedures. My House Bill 1278 promotes and provides aftercare services to juvenile offenders aging out of the Office of Juvenile Affairs. My House Bill 1288 authorizes road service vehicle companies to use certain flashing lights on road service vehicles.

Energy and Regulatory Services 

House Bill 1277 will create a state fund that uses existing oil and gas taxes to create CNG infrastructure within county vehicle fleets. House Bill 1282 provides safety guidelines for CNG infrastructure and equipment. Finally, House Bill 1283 provides guidelines for distribution of CNG, LNG, and gasoline products. It is intended to prevent federal overreach.

Child Services and Procedures 

House Bill 1280 sets requirements for the Department of Human Services to follow when taking complaints towards child care facilities. It will saves funds and resources and streamline complaint procedures. I also filed House Bill 1281, which provides procedures for establishing scholarships for Child Development Associate and Child Care Professionals, thus removing federal oversight.

Protection of Human Life

Finally, I filed House Bill 1289, which creates the Protection of Human Life Act and prohibits embryonic stem cell research within Oklahoma.

Despite the challenges we face as a state, I remain optimistic for our future. We face financial struggles and policy changes which could change the direction of our state. However, I believe conservative values and policies are what have worked, are working, and will continue to work in the future. It is a dependency on Almighty God and a steadfastness in the beliefs which have brought us here that will continue to make Oklahoma a shining beacon for others to see. We must set the example.    


It is an honor to serve you. It matter not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Budget Shortfall, Changes Face Lawmakers Starting February 1st

    State lawmakers are currently discussing the budget picture as we prepare to begin the legislative session in February. The budget forecast is difficult but not insurmountable. We had a budget hole last year that we filled with one-time revenue sources. This year we will fall back to the standard sources and that will mean we need a new strategy.

    The Oklahoma State Board of Equalization has estimated that we will have less revenue growth for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2015. This is due to the recent drop in oil prices and lower prices in agricultural commodity markets. Combined with that lack of revenue growth are other factors such as the loss of one-time revenue sources. The state’s overall projections and agency budget requests for this fiscal year were off from available revenue by around $300 million, but we are facing an actual deficit of around $25 million.

    Tax cut critics are going to overlook the factors I have described above and simply say, look, they cut taxes, and now we have less. The truth though is that tax cuts have led to revenue growth. However, as the revenue has grown so has our funding needs for education, transportation and public safety. We have cut some non-essential spending, but to balance our budget, we need to continue to prioritize better.

    This year, Speaker Jeff Hickman is already discussing reductions to tax incentives that the state gives to special interests. I agree overall with the goal of these incentives. Many were created in order to attract or keep business in the state. Specific oil and gas incentives have been proven to be highly effective. However, over time, we have seen that most do not give us a proper return on our investment. Currently our state gives around $1.7 billion every year in credits, subsidies and incentives. We need to make sure every penny is spent wisely and is being used effectively to actually attract or keep business in our state and not just be given away.

    We are also discussing change the way in which we craft the budget. A constitutional amendment has been filed that would make one session a budget-only session every two years. There has been vocal support for this plan by the governor. A second proposed change would allow us to focus on needs rather than how much we want to add to current expenses. We basically start from last year’s budget when we build the next year’s budget and this would have us go back to the drawing board and make sure we do not waste money on programs that are no longer a high priority.

    As your state representative this year, I will work to reduce tax credits and incentives, provide adequate funding for high priority needs and improve the budget process.


    It is an honor to serve you. It matter not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cockroft Column: Changing School Board Election Dates A Must

    As I attended this year’s first legislative event on Tuesday, the Organizational Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol, I felt optimistic about the opportunities that will be presented this session. Every election changes the makeup of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, making it possible for new ideas to be infused into the process and allow measures that failed narrowly in past years to get a new chance.

    I have a great deal of respect for our educators. I also have deep respect for the leaders of our community who throw their hat in the ring to serve on our school boards. There are many things that teachers, administrators and school board members are doing right. I have said many times before that our educators are the backbone of our communities. Often doing a thankless job, they shape our state’s future everyday with the work they do in the classroom as well as the board room. I believe their job to be one of the most important any person could hold.

    However, we all know that there are some changes needed in public education. Among the discussion of more funding for education, more local control for our school districts, and less overreaching mandates from the State and Federal government, are smaller, yet significant improvements that can be made. One of the best ways to enact change is to attract new blood and broaden the public conversation about the problems facing education. However, due to the timing of school board elections, those discussions are rarely held, and new blood is rarely attracted. Constituents have pointed out to me again and again that school board elections receive low voter turnout. Election return numbers from all across the state back these claims up. An Oklahoma City election in February of 2009 garnered only eight percent of registered voters. In rural areas of the state, that eight percent is actually a very high number. 

    One way I feel that this process could be improved is by tying school board elections to other elections already being held, such as municipal elections. This reform would also save the state money while encouraging more participation in the process.

    Unions and special interest groups have successfully controlled school board elections across the state for years. Yet, when individual teachers were surveyed by the Professional Oklahoma Educators Association in 2009 and asked whether school board elections should be coupled with already existing elections, 85 percent replied yes. When you control the way elections are held you can control who wins. I prefer transparency and engagement over control.

    I have run this legislation every year I have been in office because it is something I believe in and have heard clearly from my constituents. Last year, I received a floor vote but did not receive the votes needed to pass legislation to institute this reform. It failed on the floor by a vote of 44-47. However, this year, there is new blood in the House and I hope to see it receive greater support. This fight isn’t as large as some of the issues we discuss and debate every year, but this reform is a small step in the right direction. I believe it will effectively engage more people in the decisions made by our local communities.


    It is an honor to serve you. It matter not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Please visit my policy blog at www.RepJoshCockroft.blogspot.com. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Cockroft Column: Time To Revisit Fees, Budgeting Process

The Board of Equalization last week announced that the revenue triggers necessary to invoke a tax cut have been met. The Board of Equalization approved a motion Thursday to certify the income tax cut trigger provisions of Senate Bill 1246. SB 1246 requires a comparison between Fiscal Year 2016 estimated general revenue to the Fiscal Year 2014 certified general revenue total. Because projected FY 16 revenue is $60.7 million more than FY-14 revenues, the personal income tax rate will be reduced from 5.25 percent to 5 percent in tax year 2016. This comes as further proof that conservative policies continue to work for Oklahoma despite what the naysayers say.

The estimates approved by the board project revenues that could be enough to also trigger a deposit of almost $37.8 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Despite this, the Legislature could face budgetary challenges as the projections approved today are 0.3 percent or $25.6 million less than what was certified for last year’s budget. The recent drop in oil prices, although beneficial at the pump, could continue to put pressure on state revenues. Lower prices in agricultural commodity markets will also be a challenge for lawmakers to overcome beginning in February.

Every year new challenges face lawmakers as we begin the budgeting process. The challenges of fluctuating federal monies, off the top spending, and aging infrastructures force legislators to find new ways to craft a budget. Three measures I am introducing this year will force us to focus on true state priorities while planning for the future.

When revenues are uncertain, agencies will turn to fees as a steady source of income. The danger in this is agencies justify the spending before the legislature without the general public even knowing about it. Fee increases are seldom a large increase, but can quickly add up and be passed without many people knowing about it. I have a solid resume in voting against fee increases during my tenure in the legislature. I will be introducing legislation which was run unsuccessfully in 2013 by then Speaker of the House TW Shannon to put a three year moratorium on fee increases; allowing the budgeting process to be transparent. If increases are needed, the people of the state should know about it before it’s passed, not when they get the bill.

Over half of our state revenue is generated from the federal government. We see that number shrink and fluctuate every year, yet we have no plan to deal with the uncertainty of the federal government. I will be filing two measures dealing with how our state reacts to the federal money it receives. One measure seeks to require state agencies to make contingency plans for 5 percent to 10 percent reductions in federal revenues for every year’s budget. Doing so would allow us to be prepared and ready should the funds not be available. The second measure would establish the Federal Funds Commission to study and make recommendations on federal funding in a state’s budget, assess risks of a significant loss of federal funding, and contingency plans for continued services from the state in the event of a reduction of federal assistance. The commission would have members appointed by the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, and the Governor to meet and make the needed recommendations dealing with federal funds.

The state’s budget is the largest issue we as lawmakers deal with every year. Our state cannot afford to not look at every option to make the process easier, more efficient, smarter, and stream lined. I look forward to working through these measures with my colleagues over the next several months.


It is an honor to serve you. It matters not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. Communication is important to me. I want to know how to I can better serve and lead for our district and our state. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Revenue Estimate Approved, Income Tax Cut


OKLAHOMA CITY — Revenues available for certification for the next appropriated state budget are trending flat but remain sufficient to trigger a personal income tax reduction in tax year 2016, according to projections approved Thursday.

The seven-member Board of Equalization on Thursday certified revenues Gov. Mary Fallin can use to build her FY 2016 executive budget proposal. Under state law, the governor must use the figure certified Thursday for the executive budget that will presented to the Legislature when it convenes Feb. 2.

The board also took action required under legislation enacted in April that will cause the state’s top personal income tax rate to drop from 5.25 percent to 5 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2016. The legislation authorized the income tax reduction if the FY 16 General Revenue Fund (GRF) estimate made by the board Thursday was equal to or greater than the FY 14 GRF estimate made by the board in February 2013. The FY 16 GRF estimate the board reviewed Thursday is $6,004,349,345, which is $60.7 million more than the FY 14 GRF estimate of $5,943,662,805 made in February 2013.

“Oklahomans are getting relief at the gas pump this year, and next year they’ll be getting more relief through a lower personal income tax,” said Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston L. Doerflinger.

The board on Thursday approved an estimate of $6,914,776,463 in available revenue for the FY 2016 executive budget proposal. That amount is $43.3 million, or 0.6 percent, less than what was approved last December for the governor’s FY 15 executive budget, and $298.1 million, or 4.1 percent, less than the legislatively-approved FY 15 appropriated state budget of $7,212,855,361.

“There isn’t more money, but there is adequate money. We have a big enough pie and our job now is slicing it right to meet the needs of the day with the funds available,” Doerflinger said.

Despite the $298.1 million differential between FY 15 total appropriations and the preliminary FY 16 revenue estimate, revenues the board can certify as available for appropriations remain mostly flat. The estimate the board approved Thursday of revenue available for the FY 16 executive budget proposal is $25.6 million, or 0.3 percent, less than the $6,940,352,735 the board approved in February 2014 as available for FY 15 appropriations. However, the enacted FY 15 budget appropriated more than was certified by the board due to its use of $291.7 million in additional funds from various government accounts.

“As is the case most every session, revenues certified by the board do not represent all revenues available for appropriation,” Doerflinger said. “We were well-intentioned in using additional resources to meet needs last session, but next session we’ll have to rely more on cuts to most areas if we’re going to put additional resources anywhere else. We’ll have to prioritize and make tough choices.”

The board will meet again in late February to make a second estimate that will be used in negotiations between the governor and legislators to determine FY 16 appropriations levels for state agencies.

“As always, February’s certification matters way more than this December estimate,” Doerflinger said. “If oil prices continue sliding and the energy sector shrinks, there may be less revenue in February than there is today – we’ll see. In any event, the challenge is not insurmountable and we can and will manage it.”

Doerflinger is director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which works with the Governor's Office to build the annual executive budget. OMES, in conjunction with the Oklahoma Tax Commission, prepares the revenue estimates that are presented to the Board of Equalization.
The packet the board reviewed Thursday can be accessed on the OMES website: http://www.ok.gov/OSF/documents/boe12182014.pdf


Monday, December 8, 2014

Cockroft Column - The Time Is Now For Major Judicial Reform

In the last century, individuals in our state and every state in the Nation have felt the effects of an ever growing and increasingly powerful judiciary branch. Even during my tenure in the Oklahoma Legislature, I have seen numerous measures struck down in sweeping cases of judicial activism. What many people do not realize because of its convenient failure to be taught in the classroom is that the judicial system was never created to be a co-equal or independent branch having powers to legislate or execute law as it does today. The Federalist Papers were written by our founders to explain the intent of what was meant by the wording of everything we find in our Constitution. Federalist Paper #51 states, "the legislative authority necessarily predominate.” Federalist Paper #78 states, “The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither force nor will. . . . The judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution. . . . The judiciary is, beyond comparison, the weakest of the three departments of power. . . . and the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter. Not only was the Judiciary not created to be equal, but it was actually much weaker than the Legislative and Executive! 

Every election cycle when our Supreme Court Justices are on the ballot for retention, I receive many complaints on the lack of transparency or information available on the Justices due to the state statutes here in Oklahoma. Our state is set up on what is commonly known as the “Missouri Plan” for our selection of Supreme Court Justices. The Missouri Plan provides for the appointment of the Justices by the Governor, then places them on a non-partisan retention ballot to allow the people to decide if they should remain as Justices. I believe the difficulties far outweigh the benefits of this system. Holding non-partisan elections often shroud the ability of the people to understand where the individuals stand on the issues. Pointed questions are not allowed. The amount of information of their records is nearly impossible to find for most people. Being as such, over 95% of retention ballots are retained. This process simply regurgitates the problems we are seeing.     

Many things have been on a slow fade away from our Founding Fathers original intent in the 1700’s, but here in Oklahoma I look to help to reverse the course in a small way. This year I will be filing a measure to change our Supreme Court Justice selection process from an appointed one by our Governor to an elected one by the people. By designating districts by population much like our Congressional Districts, the people would elect a Supreme Court Justice for their district to a term in Oklahoma City. The Justices would then elect the Chief Justice from among themselves. Our Founding Fathers very much intended for the judicial process infused by the people and not to be appointed by bureaucrats. Enabling accountability by and from the people begins to make this branch of government realize the consequences, good or bad, of their decisions. 

I realize and am not naive to that fact this is a very bold and new solution. The hill is long and the climb will be hard. However, my responsibility is to look into every solution to move our state in a positive direction. Big problems require bold solutions. I believe in this solution. Beginning the dialog this year will perhaps yield to the change this state needs to provide a more transparent and accountable government. 

Please do not hesitate to give me your thoughts and ideas. That’s why I am here! You can email me at: Josh.Cockroft@OkHouse.gov, call me at: 405-557-7349, follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, and my Website: www.FriendsofJoshCockroft.com


Friday, November 21, 2014

Open Letter to the Citizens of the State of Oklahoma


   
This past week I had the pleasure of joining 34 of my colleagues in drafting an open letter to the citizens of our great state over my great concerns on the lawsuit against Senate Bill 1246 which was passed this past spring. This letter went out to every media outlet in the state and has quickly garnered support and interest. I have attached that letter below for your review. Please feel free to share with your friends and family or submit your thoughts back to me. 
God bless, 

Rep. Josh Cockroft



"An Open Letter to the Citizens of the State of Oklahoma,

    The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a lawsuit brought against Senate Bill 1246, which was passed by the Oklahoma Legislature and signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin in the 2014 legislative session.

    That piece of legislation, now state law, was intended to reduce Oklahoma’s personal income tax rate if certain state tax collection targets are met. The lawsuit against the new statute is being aided by vocal opponents of income tax reductions.

    According to those who filed the lawsuit, the new law violates provisions of State Question 640, originally approved by a majority of Oklahoma voters in 1992 with the goal of making it more difficult for state lawmakers to increase taxes paid by Oklahomans.

    In 1992, state lawmakers’ ability to increase taxes and revenue needed to be restrained. The subsequent constitutional restraint requires that bills creating or increasing taxes, or making new revenue sources for the purpose of funding government, start in the state House of Representatives. Also, such bills cannot be passed in the final five days of the legislative session. As well, they must either be submitted to a vote of the people or receive three-fourths approval by both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

    The lawsuit against the new tax reduction attempts to make the case that any bill related to taxes or revenue, whether it increases or decreases taxes paid by Oklahomans, is subject to the provisions of SQ 640. This interpretation violates the plain wording of the amendment and the intent of the voters.

    Taxpaying Oklahomans should be alarmed by arguments made last month before the state Supreme Court justices regarding the intent of SQ 640. It was argued before the Court that, when the citizens voted in 1992 to make it more difficult for the state Legislature to increase their taxes, it was actually the intent of voters to make it more difficult to lower their taxes. Such an interpretation would mean SQ 640 applies to any bill dealing with revenue. This is a direct violation of the plain language of the statute in question and the clear intent of the voters. If a subsequent ruling by the Court reflects such rationale, this will have grave consequences on the ability of the Legislature in the future to provide relief to taxpayers.

    If the state Supreme Court rules according to the lawsuit’s interpretation, there could be serious consequences. Minor or technical amendments to revenue-related statutes, bills lowering fees, and prior personal income tax cuts, business tax cuts, estate tax cuts, credits and deductions for seniors, and retiree and veteran tax relief could all be challenged and overturned. 

    It is even possible that dozens, if not hundreds, of past measures enacting tax relief or the expenditure of revenue could be immediately ruled null and void.

    Such a ruling sets a precedent benefiting only those who want to undo such prior tax relief as the gross production tax compromise, also passed during the 2014 legislative session. 

    As well, any law passed in Oklahoma since 1992 that increased or decreased the amount of funds in the state Treasury could be immediately deemed unconstitutional if it failed to meet the standards of SQ 640. This could include state budget bills, which are routinely passed in the final days of session, jeopardizing funding for schools, public safety, transportation infrastructure and safety net services.

    Tax-relief measures enacted in Oklahoma since SQ 640’s passage in 1992 that could potentially be ruled unconstitutional, should SB 1246 be struck down by the Court, would include:


- Reductions of the state’s personal income tax rate from 6.65 percent down to 5.25 percent; passed in 2005 and 2006.
- Manufacturing exemption against the state’s corporate income tax for distributors; passed in 2005.
- Prohibition of taxation on intangible personal property; sent to the voters for approval in 2012.
- Setting of the state’s gross production tax rate at 2 percent for all new oil and natural gas wells drilled in the state, for the first three years of a well’s production; passed in 2014.
- Repeal of Oklahoma’s estate tax; passed in 2005.
- Tax relief for all disabled military veterans filing personal income tax returns in Oklahoma; passed in 2005.
- Tying of the state’s standard deduction for taxpaying families to match the federal standard deduction; passed in 2006.
- Tax relief for all private-sector retirees filing personal income tax returns in Oklahoma; passed in 2006.
- Tax relief for all military veterans filing personal income tax returns in Oklahoma; passed in 2006.

    Clearly, this was not the intent of Oklahoma voters when they approved SQ 640 in 1992. Such actions by the state Supreme Court would inflict unnecessary hardship on Oklahoma families, retirees, veterans, entrepreneurs and job-creators.

    It is our sincere hope that the Oklahoma Supreme Court will use discretion and sound judgment and not rule in such fashion as to throw out two decades-worth of tax reductions for Oklahoma taxpayers. It is truly bizarre to imagine that Oklahoma voters desired in 1992 to make it more difficult than it had previously been for state lawmakers to take less of their money.

    Since 1992, Oklahomans have benefited from numerous state-level tax reductions and suffered few state-level tax increases. SQ 640 has been a good protection against rapid escalation of state-level tax rates and unnecessary growth of state government. Our state and its people have benefited as a result.

Sincerely, 

Rep. Josh Cockroft"