Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cockroft Column - Forget Medicaid Expansion

Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma isn't happening, but advocates refuse to receive that message. They probably just can’t accept this reality, because the expansion is happening in so many other parts of the country.

It is irresponsible to spend money we don’t have into the federal Medicaid program. The federal government provides a large portion of that money and the state’s portion is smaller, but that doesn’t mean we can afford it. Right now in our state are over 818,000 Oklahomans who depend on Medicaid. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority estimates the state needs $164 million more right now just to cover current needs. To add to that number through accepting more federal dollars and more state responsibility would be foolish from a state budget viewpoint.

The big picture view of what is happening in Oklahoma is that we are a low-income state with limited resources. That history has made us more focused than most on the proper management of what resources we have in building our state budget. We invest heavily in education (over half of our budget) and then try to ensure that we maintain public safety, road and bridge infrastructure, current health programs and a number of other priority services.

Even though education receives a majority of the state budget, our schools are not flushed with money. Despite receiving a large slice of the state budget, they struggle financially. The reason for that is that Oklahoma does not have a huge budget. Schools are receiving a large slice, but that slice is from a small pie.

Right now, we have a prison system that is in dire straits. Corrections officers receive low pay, which has led to a dwindling workforce. Prison populations continue to grow and we do not see an easy fix to this growing problem.

Our road and bridge infrastructure is finally on track, but that will continue to require investment. We also support the current level of Medicaid and a number of other health and social services programs.

I know that there are a lot of Oklahomans who are in need. Unfortunately, I also know that to put too much of our state’s money in Medicaid, would cripple other equally important endeavors.

I also believe that Medicaid, like other federal programs, creates a number of problems in the health care industry. One of the blessings in Oklahoma is having lower health care costs. The silver lining of being unable to fund a Medicaid expansion is that it gives us the opportunity to look at other free market ways to improve the system.

I hope you will keep these things in mind as the Medicaid expansion advocates continue to hammer away at us. The Oklahoma Legislature has made many wise decisions with the limited resources we have. It would be a shame to undo that hard work.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Errant Weekly Column

"As someone once said, modern technology is a great thing – until you try to use it. Human error has a way of undermining years of technological advances. That was certainly the case when I recently submitted my legislative column to area newspapers.

At the time, I was working at home on both my column and an upcoming speech focused on traditional marriage. While preparing for that speech, I pulled an article by Ryan T. Anderson from the Heritage Foundation and placed it in my notes for future reference. I planned to include some of that material in the speech (with attribution).

Unfortunately, I had two files open on my computer at the same time: the file for my weekly column and the file for my speech notes. At some point, I accidently copied the speech notes file and submitted it as my weekly column by mistake. Thus, Mr. Anderson’s work was wrongly presented as my own.

It was never my intention to take credit for another person’s work, but that is what I did, albeit accidently. I apologize to Mr. Anderson, the papers that received the column, and the people of House District 27. I failed to double-check my work, and my haste created a situation that embarrasses me deeply.

With sincerest regrets,"

 

Rep. Josh Cockroft

Thursday, October 9, 2014

(Corrected) The Case For Traditional Marriage


Note: After being made aware I had posted an errant column, I have removed it and replaced it with the correct version. The previous version was never meant to be published, but was for my records alone, were personal notes for an upcoming speech, and were published through an honest mistake. That version had many direct quotes without proper credit given to the author. I have fixed the problem and promise to be more aware in the future.    

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear an appeal to a federal district court’s earlier ruling, essentially removing Oklahoma’s ban on homosexual marriage.

I, as well as multiple other state officials, immediately expressed my outrage to the blatant disregard of the very moral fibers upon which this country was founded and for the gross overreach of the federal judicial system. In an issue which boils down to state's rights, three individuals in a federal district court overturned what 1.1 million people stated in defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

I have spent the last several days stating and restating my personal opinion, but for this column, I want to take a step back and look at this issue from a practical standpoint, ask a few questions and provide answers on this important issue.

What is marriage, why does traditional marriage matter for public policy, and what would be the consequences of redefining marriage?

We first have to ask ourselves why the institution of marriage exists. The simple answer would be so that population and society as we know can continue. Practically, marriage brings one man and one woman together to be a father and mother to the children their union produces. This union is founded on the indisputable truth that men and women are made differently, yet made complementary at the same time. Without these differences, including the physical differences which allow reproduction and the rearing of their children, marriage would just be another relationship. Without marriage, there would be no civilization. Marriage has many public purposes that even go beyond its private purposes. This fact is why a majority of states have attempted to affirm and place into state statute that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The reason government recognizes marriage is for its benefits to society. No other institution produces the kinds of results that marriage does. Proper child-rearing and the encouragement by the state to take responsibility of the family structure are among the many benefits. 

As Ryan T. Anderson from the Heritage Foundation said in an article titled "Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It” (2013): "Promoting traditional marriage does not at any time ban any type of relationship. Adults are free to make choices about their relationships, and they do not need government sanction or license to do so. All Americans have the freedom to live as they choose, but no one has a right to redefine marriage for everyone else."

What we as a society are doing in redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships is placing the desires of adults of more importance than the needs of the children within these relationships. Selfishness is blinding our eyes to the needs of the next generation. Additionally, redefining marriage within state and federal governments reduces the institution to whatever government at the time defines it as. In other words, if an individual has an emotional connection to a rock or even (although it now sounds outrageous) a young child, then government could recognize and give the definition of marriage in that instance. 

I believe we are traveling down the slippery slope of convenience over principle and a false definition of equality over practicality. 

Never hesitate to contact me. Email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. Call me at: (405) 557-7349. Follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, and Twitter: @VoteCockroft27.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cockroft Column - Cronyism and Failure in Oklahoma's Education Department

   
Although I continue to be an advocate for education reform, I think it is clear the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi is the wrong person for the job. Not only has she continued to fail state schools on a number of leadership fronts, she has now resorting to cronyism in her hiring practices, which is almost comical considering how little time there will be until a new superintendent cleans house.
    My colleague State Representative Jason Smalley, myself, and many others are calling for the resignation of Barresi and two staffers, Dr. Larry Birney and Kim Richey. The hire of Dr. Birney resulted in the resignation of a longtime and respected member of the office, Lynn Jones. Birney, who has not worked in education before, was the spouse of Kim Richey, the general counsel. Hiring him was not illegal, but Oklahomans have long recognized nepotism or cronyism as an immoral practice in state government. When it causes good employees to resign, it is effectively burning down the house before the new superintendent comes on. A new position was created to hire Birney, which also means taxpayer dollars were spent to fund this nepotism to the tune of $90,000 per year. 
    Due to this situation, I am looking into possible legislation which would prevent outgoing state officials and lawmakers who have been defeated in their election from making non-essential hires or creating new positions. I believe if an individual has been defeated within the democratic process, their constituents have clearly spoken their desire to move on. There should be no reasonable reason to create new positions or hire for non-essential positions. Unfortunately, this latest move is not uncommon in state government. Oftentimes outgoing officials will spend budgets and hire individuals rapidly, leaving very little for their successor to begin with. Simple legislation could fix this problem. 
    After last week’s release of the latest A-F scores, I am hearing of and seeing the failures in the implementation of the A-F grading system. A lot of money that could have been put into other projects has now gone down the drain as we continue to push a testing system that has not been properly calibrated or executed. I think the A-F system was an ambitious project to infuse accountability and transparency into our educational system. However, it’s implementation has been horrible at best. It needs to include a great deal of input from local schools during every step of the process and to this point, state officials have refused to do this. Many factors such as attendance rates and poverty levels are graded, putting rural schools at an immediate disadvantage. While many schools within my district continue to struggle based upon the state’s grading system, I will continue to stand by them because I know the other side of the story. Instead of seeing a letter grade based on incomplete data, I see administrators, teachers, and parents alike who put everything they have into our local schools. We aren’t without our struggles for sure, but I have much more confidence in them than our state does. 


    Change cannot come soon enough to the highest education office in Oklahoma. I look forward to working with whoever replaces Barresi as we try to create positive momentum for Oklahoma students.

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?