Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cockroft Column: Knowing The Numbers In State Government

Every year as we inch closer to opening a new legislative session in Oklahoma, the debates of spending priorities and budget needs begin with renewed fury. It has always been fascinating to me as I have presided over budget hearings in January to hear agency heads and lobbyist groups advocate for additional dollars every year. Only a small handful of times have I heard them ask for less taxpayer funds to properly operate. While there is always a demand for appropriations to deliver needed services, as a conservative I believe in asking the tough questions of how we can better spend the taxpayer dollar. Efficiency and reduction in government, paired with growth and prosperity in the private sector is always an amiable goal. However, this is seldom the rhetoric coming from Washington, D.C., or even Oklahoma City.

Many times we are told by agencies, the media, and individuals alike that there is a growing need for more money within our government structure. We are told year after year areas such as education, health care, and public safety have dire needs for more funds. We are told there aren’t enough appropriations to go around and that agencies will be forced to make dangerous cuts. I would simply caution against such language and would instead point to the real numbers.

The most recent fiscal year ended on June 30, and the data shows that state government revenues are actually at an all-time high. Preston Doerflinger, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Finance, Administration, and Information Technology, reported earlier in the summer the general revenue fund maintained levels from the prior year and even exceeded them slightly. Last time I checked, that’s not a deficit.

But it’s not just the general revenue fund which has grown. According to Secretary Doerflinger and State Treasurer Ken Miller, total state tax collections set another record. Treasurer Miller reported in his recent summary: “Gross receipts to the treasury, a good snapshot of our state’s productivity, incomes, and consumption, are higher than ever before .... Collections have been higher than the same month of the prior year in 45 of the past 51 months, which indicates a steady economic expansion.”

Remember, all of this comes after a decade of eliminating death taxes and cutting the top personal income tax rate by 25 percent. During that same time the standard deduction increased and a child tax credit was added for many Oklahomans. All of these actions were claimed by critics to be the decimation of Oklahoma’s economy. The numbers don’t lie; these critics were wrong.

Unfortunately for Oklahomans, the same statistic which stated revenues were at an all-time high, show that state government spending is also at an all-time high. In my experience in the legislature, lawmakers are much too willing to spend taxpayer dollars without hesitation while hiding under the “conservative” label.

Obviously, most state spending is needed and is even directed towards the proper needs. However, it doesn’t take long to see the low hanging fruit which needs to be trimmed. Countless other areas need to be re-prioritized to assure every penny is being used wisely. It’s what most of us do in our daily, personal lives. Why not in state government?


It is always a pleasure to serve you! I can always be reached through my Capitol office at (405) 557-7349 and by email at:Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. Additionally, you can follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, and at www.FriendsofJoshCockroft.com. My door is always open to you.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cockroft Column - Workers' Comp Improving, Earthquakes on the Radar

It wasn't long ago that Oklahoma's workers' compensation system was one of the hottest political topics. For decades Republicans and Democrats alike fought for meaningful reform of an antiquated compensation system. The skyrocketing costs and abuse of that system finally saw a remedy when we passed a measure which I was an author of in 2013. The measure set up an administrative system which we are now seeing the positive results of.

Last week, the National Council on Compensation Insurance reported that workers' compensation rates will decrease by 7.8 percent for next year. This follows on the last year's report of a 14.6 percent cost decline. The State Chamber of Oklahoma estimates that since workers' comp reform was passed in the state, Oklahoma businesses have saved more than $220 million. It is by far not a perfect system, but we have taken great leaps of improvement.

The workers' comp reform was not made lightly, without deliberation and discussion of the best way to move forward. Many opponents of the reforms were concerned whether we would really see positive changes in rates. These results prove that these reforms are working.

Likewise, we are now approaching the issues of earthquakes in the same deliberate manner. Over the last several years in Oklahoma, earthquakes have become one of the newest concerns. Questions have abounded of how Oklahoma can make policy decisions which protects its citizens, while protecting the free market system and protecting freedom to our businesses and the energy sector.

Gov. Mary Fallin has recently created a panel to coordinate earthquake studies in the state. The Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity will connect researchers, officials and energy industry experts. Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague will lead the panel. It will include input from the Oklahoma Geological Survey, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board, Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association.

According to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, 3.0 magnitude or greater earthquakes have increased from an average of less than 5 to about 40 a year. There were more than 200 this year so far. Some studies have pointed to natural causes while others have pointed to the oil and natural gas industry.

I am highly concerned about what these earthquakes mean for homeowners and public safety. Will they get worse? Do we need to require earthquake coverage? Do we need to limit what techniques can be practiced in close vicinity to property? We really haven't received a clear answer. Trying to get a bird's eye view by coordinating the studies is an important first step in figuring out the state's course going forward.

I will always fight to protect conservative principles and against overreaching state and local government. However, we must ask some tough questions to see whether state government is doing everything within its power to place our state in a safe position. This is treading on new ground for our state. I look forward to being part of the discussion over the next few years.

It is always a pleasure to serve you! I can be reached through my Capitol office at (405) 557-7349 and by email at:Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. My door is always open to you.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cockroft Column - Politics or Policies?

   
    With the news this past week that the federal government denied the extension of Oklahoma’s Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) No Child Left Behind waiver, the finger pointing immediately began. Democrats like House Minority Leader Scott Inman blamed all Republicans for their “abysmal” record on issues in education like common core and education budgets which resulted in the federal decision. Republicans like Governor Mary Fallin blasted the federal government for “playing politics” with our children’s education. As with many decisions which are handed down from Washington, D.C., the lines of partisan politics have quickly been drawn. To my fellow colleagues on both sides of the aisle, public servants, and educational organizations who have had these type of responses, I have a simple message: Stop it. We must stop playing politics with our future, because our children deserve better.
    Instead of drawing lines between political parties, shouldn’t we be looking towards the best interests of the children who are affected by these decisions? Why don’t we start talking about the failing schools across Oklahoma and not just skip over the students being swept under the rug for an agenda’s sake? These aren’t policies we are talking about, they’re lives. They are our future. Perhaps if we took a step outside of political halls and into the classrooms of the real world we would start to see this reality. Unlike the perception which the analysts and political talking heads will have us believe, having a locally controlled education system with rigorous academic standards is possible. It begins with proper recognition of the role of government and the will of the people whom those in public service represent. 
    If anything, those who have sharply pointed fingers at each other across Oklahoma’s political landscape should instead direct blame towards a federal government which is grossly overstepping its bounds of responsibility. It is overtly apparent this decision comes as a political punishment for the repeal of common core this past spring by the Oklahoma legislature; something a massive majority of Oklahoma parents were pleading for. Allowing bureaucrats in Washington to dictate our educational landscape in Oklahoma is unacceptable whether you are Republican or Democrat. I believe in our parents, teachers, and administrators much more than career politicians in D.C.
    Now these decisions are in the past and we must work towards a brighter future. The reality is that we have lost the waiver. That was today; what about tomorrow? Shouldn’t our failing schools and failing grades gain as much focus as political headlines? No matter what your feelings are on the A-F school grading system and what your individual school’s grade is, you have to be blind to not see room for improvement in our schools. Let’s focus on that.
    To my Democratic colleagues: Using this decision to spread the fear of lost funds among lawmakers and teachers alike is misleading and dishonest. This decision doesn’t change anything for funding levels. The federal government did not even state that there would be the 20 percent of Title 1 funds set aside for tutoring by parents, forcing the state to lose flexibility as has been incorrectly rumored. Additionally, to demand additional support from the federal government is completely hypocritical to the cries coming from your caucus over the last four years for “more local control”. You can’t have it both ways. 
To my Republican colleagues: The party of less government and conservative principles cannot pause in its fight to point out the proper roles of the federal, state, and local government. If you believe in less government, fight for it! Unfortunately, many within the Republican party today are not controlled by ideas, but by the desire to be in control. This is a posture which creates little motivation for bold change. The public is looking for bold change, not the hard-to-control desire for power in our system today. Not political winds, nor contributor’s dollars, should sway the truth one way or the other. Never apologize for doing what you believe to be right. 

    Yes, we have challenges ahead of us. However, we must let ideas and hard facts guide us in policy decisions. Instead of pointing fingers, let’s work together. I firmly believe history will judge those who use cheap scare tactics to hold back common sense policies as the real extremists and as protectors of the status quo. Our children deserve better than squabbles which promote one party over the other. Our students are watching, what will they see we’re leaving them with?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cockroft Column: Overview of Summer Studies

The Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives approves studies every summer to help lawmakers prepare for next year. Held anytime between August and November, these studies aid us in building consensus on touchy subjects and getting the details right on complex policy initiatives.

I believe strongly in the death penalty. It serves as an important deterrent to the taking of a life in our state. It also gives grieving families a much-needed sense of justice. This year’s botched execution gave ammunition to the anti-death penalty movement. One of the studies approved in July will examine or execution and death penalty procedures to ensure our manner of executions are beyond reproach. We will also be looking at what other methods of execution are available as execution drug supplies are increasingly scarce.

Water conservation is going to get more important with each passing year. A second approved study will focus on streamlining and improving on the state’s water plan. We all know how important water is, so I will be watching closely to ensure we are getting solid ideas to move the state forward.
This year, Gov. Mary Fallin advocated for a mandate that would require physicians to check a prescription drug database before prescribing an addictive substance to a patient. Our state has a huge problem with prescription drug overdoses. One approved study will examine the issue in depth, either convincing more state lawmakers to support the bill or uncovering a better way to combat prescription drug abuse.
A bill to require DNA collections regardless of whether or not a person was convicted was defeated this year. The issue will now be up for study and I will be following it closely. I do believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty and should not have his or her privacy invaded via a DNA sample. Even though DNA collection is a useful tool to catch a criminal who is slipping through the cracks, I think the potential abuse is much more troubling. I will report to you on what comes out of that study at a future date.
Lastly, I wanted to mention a study that will examine Red Cedar eradication. Red Cedar trees are extremely flammable and a terrible nuisance in Oklahoma. I am open to any ideas on how to eradicate them in a cost-efficient manner.
Please never hesitate to contact me. It is an honor to serve you! You can contact my office at: 405-557-7349, or by email at:Josh.Cockroft@OKHouse.gov. You can also follow me on Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, and on my website: FriendsofJoshCockroft.com 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cockroft Column: Election Observations, Education in Oklahoma

After taking a couple weeks off after my re-election, it feels great to get back into the routine of my busy schedule. Again, thank you for the overwhelming vote of confidence in me so I can continue serving House District 27. I look forward to these next couple sessions with great anticipation, looking for ways to continue moving Oklahoma forward. I am humbled and honored to serve you.

 

I also hope you and your family had a great Independence Day as we celebrated our great nation and the freedoms we enjoy. May we each seek to protect and preserve these freedoms so we can pass them on to future generations.

 

Every time we go through an election process I am reminded of the incredible process we have the opportunity to be a part of, and the responsibility of each of us to partake. This election cycle was no different. Each year we must make decisions on individuals who will lead our state in a positive direction.

 

There were a couple surprises this year, but none could top the overwhelming victory of Joy Hofmeister over incumbent Janet Barresi for state school superintendent. I have had no hesitation in the past in voicing my disapproval of some of Superintendent Barresi’s policies, but didn’t quite expect the blowout she received statewide. Anytime an incumbent comes in third place in a three-way primary it is an historic election. It is quite obvious a decent portion of the votes Joy received came from Democrats who switched parties to simply vote in this particular race and against the incumbent. It will be intriguing to watch if these individuals will stay registered as Republicans to fight for a particular set of ideals and principles, or if they simply voted out of spite towards one individual. As I stated earlier, I have been no fan of Superintendent Barresi, but in an emotionally charged election it is always important to remember the issues at hand. A better education for our children should be at the forefront of our minds, not simply ousting one person. At the end of the day, the sad reality is that only 25 percent of eighth grade students in Oklahoma are proficient in math and only 29 percent are proficient in reading. This should be our goal to overcome, not a “dentist-turned-teacher.”

 

I will continue to fight for education that originates at the local level, which I believe to be superior to any other method. Education begins in the home and then grows from there. We must encourage strong families and strong local schools before we ever see a change for the better in Oklahoma education. It’s a long fight, but a fight worth fighting.

 

Oklahomans chose well in this primary. Now do we have the fortitude and will to finish what we’ve started?

 

Please never hesitate to contact me. It is an honor to serve you! You can contact my office at: 405-557-7349, or by email at: Josh.Cockroft@OKHouse.gov. You can also follow me on Twitter: @VoteCockroft27, Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, and on my website:FriendsofJoshCockroft.com 


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cockroft Column: Budget Process Needs Transparency, Better Oversight

  Every year, the Oklahoma Legislature passes a budget, and as with anything dealing with government, it is met with both praise and criticism. Every year, there are some agencies that gain additional funding and others that receive cuts. We are constitutionally required in Oklahoma to keep a balanced budget from year to year. In this budget year where we faced a $188 million deficit in projected revenue those criticisms will ring even louder. The harsh reality everyone must face is there will never be enough money. We will always want more. In my four years in the legislature I have yet to hear an agency director or any other entity ask the legislature for less money. Obviously there are instances where more appropriations are needed. However, a desire for more is simple human nature.

            With this year’s budget, as with any other year’s, there are winners and losers. There is absolutely no such thing as a perfect budget because at the end of the day, someone will walk away unhappy. It is our responsibility as lawmakers to shape and craft a product which will keep our state on track and moving us in a positive direction.

            I voted for this year’s budget with many reservations, but with the knowledge it moved us forward for one more year. Many individuals don’t recognize the problem, but I believe our budget process is broken or in need of a serious fix. When something is broken, the product it produces will always lack in quality.

            Oklahoma crafts its budget the same as it has always done, with very few people involved. Don’t get me wrong, your legislator still voices their (and your) opinion, but the ultimate decisions are made in closed door negotiation between only a handful of people. When transparency is used, I believe it lessens the need for the accounting tricks which we saw this and other years in using supplementals and revolving funds to balance our budget. All four years I have been in office, I have fought for a more transparent budgeting process that involves more members, and forces each entity which receives money from the state to reconcile every penny needed and spent. 

            Opening this process up to not only the public, but giving legislative members more power over specific areas, will expose waste and infuse transparency into state government. Each member currently serves on sub-committees which are designed to look into specific agencies’ budgets. Yet, usually only the Chairman of that committee who reports to the House Appropriations Chairman really digs into the numbers of their budgets. This results in only a handful of members having a working knowledge of the numbers when there could be 101 members with this knowledge. Also, why are closed door negotiations needed? I believe every citizen should be able to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

            In my first year in the legislature, it was the first year to have committee meetings open to the public. We've come a long way in four years, but we should never settle for complacency. An open government is an effective government. I'll continue to fight to improve the process so we don't have to play games and politics with your hard earned money.

    Never hesitate to call me if I can be of assistance to you. I work for you! My office is always available to assist you. Call my office at: 405-557-7349, or by email at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.

 

###

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

T. Boone Pickens Endorses CNG Fleet, Infrastructure Bill

OKLAHOMA CITY – A legislative proposal that would help counties convert their fleets to compressed natural gas and increase CNG infrastructure now has the endorsement of T. Boone Pickens.

“Oklahoma is looking to make things happen,” Pickens said. “While others are debating the merits of exporting our expanding supplies of domestic natural gas to Europe and Asia, Oklahoma is hard at work on creating demand for this premium fuel, and helping rebuild their economy on the backs of this cleaner, cheaper resource. A good case in point is Oklahoma House Bill 2954, which would move more than 2,400 county vehicles to domestic natural gas. This is a great move for Oklahoma, for the environment and for those who believe in greater fiscal responsibility by our elected officials.”

House Bill 2954, by Rep. Josh Cockroft and Sen. Kyle Loveless, would set up a fund to help counties convert their vehicles to compressed natural gas and encourage development of CNG fuel stations for both government and public use.

“Encouraging the use of compressed natural gas saves government dollars while at the same time boosting the natural gas industry in Oklahoma,” said Cockroft, R-Wanette. “Our legislation gives counties the ability to realize the savings we are already seeing at the state level from the conversion of vehicles to compressed natural gas.”

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has recorded thousands of dollars in savings from the CNG conversion of only 174 vehicles. There are approximately 2,400 county vehicles – excluding law enforcement vehicles – in the state. The legislation requires counties to track fuel savings.

“After converting 174 vehicles to CNG, they recorded $163,451 in net savings in 5 months. That’s $32,690 per month,” Cockroft said.

The measure was approved by a vote of 71-17 in the House and 30-12 in the Senate. It is currently eligible to be heard by both chambers and signed by the governor after passage in the conference committee process.