Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Oklahoma wins ‘A-’ in transparency after Doerflinger directive

OKLAHOMA CITY – Secretary of Finance and Revenue Preston L. Doerflinger announced Tuesday that a national transparency report has given Oklahoma an ‘A-’ in financial transparency, a major improvement from the ‘C+’ grade the state received last year.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund’s “Following the Money 2013” report rates states on online access to government spending information. As Oklahoma’s central financial management agency, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services maintains several transparency websites providing state financial information, including OpenBooks and data.ok.gov, where the public can access millions of records related to government spending.
“Open, honest government is priority No. 1 in this office,” said Doerflinger, who is also director of OMES. “As the state’s primary bookkeeper, we are 100 percent committed to making it as easy as possible for the public to access its information. I am incredibly proud of the OMES team for this accomplishment.”
Oklahoma was one of only seven “Leading States” receiving an ‘A’ in financial transparency from PIRG. Oklahoma’s score was 91, up from 78 in 2012. In addition, Oklahoma’s high-level of transparency was accomplished at surprisingly low cost to taxpayers, with startup expenses of just $8,600, using existing staff, and annual operating costs of just $3,600. One state listed startup costs of $2.2 million, plus annual expenses of $400,000.
“We’re right where we should be, among the nation’s leaders. Few states made gains as big as ours this year, and few states are as cost-effective as we are,” Doerflinger said. “I blew a gasket when we got the ‘C+’ last year. I was absolutely livid. That grade certainly didn’t reflect the premium commitment our agency places on transparency, so we began immediate, major efforts to improve. Today, I’m pleased to say we succeeded. We’ll be shooting for an even higher score next year.”
The PIRG report grades states based on online availability and accessibility of information pertaining to state expenditures, revenues, contracts, tax credits, grants and other financial information.
“The seven states leading in online spending transparency have created user-friendly websites that provide users with information on an array of checkbook-level expenditures,” the PIRG report states. “Up until a few years ago, most citizens were completely in the dark about the details of how their state government spent taxpayer dollars.”
The report added: “Recently, however, the spending data disclosed by states online has multiplied and improved. Hundreds of billions of dollars in checkbook-level detail are now accessible at the click of the mouse.”
“Following the Money 2013” is available at: http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usf/following-money-2013.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cockroft Column, March 18, 2013

As House lawmakers begin their review of Senate bills in committee, I wanted to briefly touch upon what House bills were approved on the House floor in time for the March 14 Third Reading deadline.

House lawmakers did approve a tax cut bill that will reduce the rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. House Bill 2032 is in line with Governor Mary Fallin’s State of State message and the House leadership agenda. Senate Republicans are marching to their own beat. They have called for a slightly deeper cut, but that will take effect beginning in 2015. Hopefully, a deal can be struck, especially as we start to iron out the upcoming fiscal year budget.

Another important bill to limit government would place a moratorium on fees Oklahomans pay to state agencies for services. House Bill 1914 would prohibit new fees or fee increases through January 1, 2016. Since 2007, state fees have increased by $113 million or 38 percent. An exemption is carved out by fee increases mandated by federal law or directly tied to inflation.

With Roe vs. Wade, still firmly in place, pro-life supporters are always looking for information that can help them encourage more mothers to choose life. We passed House Bill 2015, which will add questions to the Individual Reporting Form completed by physicians who perform an abortion.

The Oklahoma Senate has sent us one bill that will allow residents in nursing homes to install electronic monitoring devices in their private rooms. The measure was requested by the Silver Haired Legislature and is a priority bill for AARP Oklahoma. Senate Bill 587 requires nursing homes to notify residents and their representatives of the opportunity.

Lastly, an important veterans bill was approved by the Senate. Senate Bill 466 ensures deployed veterans are not penalized for being away during legal proceedings. The bill would also protect a veteran’s heirs, executors and administrators when the veterans is deployed.

Once again, I am here for the people of my district. I am in a position of service and want to help in any way that I can. Please never hesitate to contact me at (405) 788-9160 or Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. Follow me on Twitter: @VoteCockroft27 and on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Measure Providing Performance Pay for State Employees Passes House

OKLAHOMA CITY – A measure that would provide a $1,000 performance payment for those state employees that meet performance evaluation standards has passed a full vote of the House of Representatives.

House Bill 1794, by state Rep. Mike Christian, would reward classified and non-classified state employees with the performance payment to help offset paycheck losses to things such as premium increases and inflation. The measure passed 92-0.

“To better compete with the private sector job base, we must begin to address the issue of pay for our state employees,” said Rep. Christian, R-Oklahoma City. “The simple fact is that our state employees are leaving for higher-paying jobs in the private sector, which ends up hurting the core services we provide to the citizens of the state. This performance pay plan – which I worked alongside the Oklahoma Public Employees Association to craft – will only go to those who have met or exceeded satisfactory performance evaluation marks and will absolutely help state employees stay at jobs they love and not look elsewhere.”

It is estimated the state of Oklahoma currently has between 34,000-35,000 state employees. The last employee compensation adjustment, a 5-percent performance pay adjustment, came in 2006.

“Our state employees have been underpaid for far too long,” Rep. Christian said. “Right now, state employees make, on average, 19 percent less than their private sector counterparts. And because of the recent change in the benefit allowance, state employees are on track to lose $1,300 from their paycheck this year. Next year, health insurance premiums will likely go up, meaning another sledgehammer to their checks. OPEA and I will continue to work to bring state employee compensation to a level that is competitive with other employers in order to recruit and retain qualified workers to serve the people of Oklahoma.”

“In the past four years, the state employee base has shrunk by nearly 4,000, via moving on to other jobs or taking retirement and those jobs not being re-staffed. That has saved the state $200 million per year in the state budget. The money is there to re-invest it in our current state employees so we can retain them and create some real stability, which will pay off for Oklahomans across the state.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

House Approves School Safety Bill by Wide Margin

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would allow CLEET-certified school personnel to act as special reserve school resource officers has been approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

These volunteers from the schools would have a special, sworn, law enforcement status and would serve as armed security in their local schools and at school events.

House Bill 1062, developed by state Reps. Mark McCullough, Sean Roberts and Josh Cockroft (R-Tecumseh) passed the House by a 68-23 vote and advances to the state Senate. The bill was also developed with the input of countless parents, educators and law enforcement officials.

“This legislation creates an option some schools may use to address safety concerns; it is not a mandate,” said McCullough, R-Sapulpa. “Schools without some form of security system in place leave themselves vulnerable to attacks and, as lawmakers, our job is to provide them with tools to keep their students safe.”

“This is an important tools that smaller, rural schools may opt to use to address the safety of their students,” said Cockroft, R-Tecumseh. “It is not a mandate and we have worked hard to ensure it gives local school boards the decision and requires 120 hours of training on the part of those who participate.”

“There is nothing more important than protecting our children,” said Roberts, R-Hominy. “For districts that are unable to provide every school a resource officer, this gives them an option to provide security.”

McCullough also praised the work of the Commission on School Security.

“I think they did an excellent job of coming up with some good recommendations to address school safety,” McCullough said. “Specifically the effort to address mental health concerns and create the Oklahoma School Security Institute.”

House Bill 1062 provides complete local control for participation in the program. The school boards would make the decision on whether or not to participate and who the volunteers would be. The certification would require a minimum of 120 hours of training to be specially developed by the Council for Law Enforcement Education and Training. It has the benefit of using the existing structure of the local law enforcement reserve system, uses a pool of readily available volunteers and provides immunity for participating school boards, school personnel and law enforcement entities.

McCullough is also seeking funding for school districts who would like to participate in the program.

“This is not about guns in schools,” McCullough said. “It is about providing a serious response to potential violent threats that could develop in our schools such as we have seen in Connecticut and elsewhere. Our current policies leave our schools largely unprotected from violent threats and this must be remediated. This measure provides a workable solution to this obvious problem.”

Measure Repealing Oklahoma Franchise Tax Passes House

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma is one step closer to being a little more business friendly, according to Rep. Leslie Osborn. 

House Bill 1716, by Rep. Osborn, passed by a 79-14 margin in the House of Representatives Tuesday evening. The measure repeals the state’s franchise tax. Currently under a moratorium through June of 2013, the tax was crafted to tax corporations for doing business in Oklahoma. Those entities were levied a tax of $1.25 for every $1,000 of capital invested or used in the state.

“Charging a company just to do its business here is simply unacceptable,” said Osborn, R-Mustang. “This tax is harmful to the bottom line of the state and hampers the ability of future job creation. Who would want to come here and have its company operate when it could go to another state, still run its business and save money in the process? Oklahoma is at a competitive disadvantage with the threat of this tax returning and I’m glad we voted today to begin the process to kill it off once and for all.”

If nothing had been done about the franchise tax this legislative session, the moratorium would have expired June 30, meaning this tax would again be levied against companies on July 1, 2014.

With the passage in the House, the measure heads to the state Senate for further consideration. If passed there and signed by the governor, this measure would go into effect July 1, 2014. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Measure Would Add Questions to Abortion Forms

OKLAHOMA CITY – A measure expanding abortion reporting requirements advanced today from the House floor.

House Bill 2015, by Rep. Sean Roberts, would add questions to the Individual Abortion Reporting Form completed by a physician. Questions related to the performance of an ultrasound, how the abortion was performed, the heartbeat of the fetus prior to abortion and number of abortions performed would be added to the list.

“I believe someone going through something as permanent and life-altering as an abortion should think about this choice in every way possible before going through with it,” said Roberts, R-Hominy. “The information obtained from this legislation could enable us to understand the reasoning behind abortions. This knowledge would allow us to take measures that make abortions safer and rarer in the state of Oklahoma.”

Additionally, the measure adds additional reporting measures to the Annual Abortion Report issued by the State Department of Health. Lastly, the measure provides for registered voters of Oklahoma to initiate legal proceedings against an abortion provider that fails to submit any required report.

HB 2015 passed the full floor of the House by a vote of 79-15. It now heads to the state Senate for further consideration.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cockroft Column, March 4, 2013

The first legislative deadline has cut down the number of bills drastically. Some of the major bills that remain alive include the Oklahoma Firearms Freedom Act, a bill to allow for CLEET-certified school employees, two workers’ compensation reform bills, three income tax cut bills, and a state question that would ask voters whether or not to take out a $200 million bond issue to pay for Capitol repairs.

The two workers’ compensation bills would make large-scale changes to our burdensome workers’ compensation system. Only one other state has a judicial workers’ compensation system. Senate Bill 1062 would replace our current judicial system with an administrative system. The bill has been approved by the Senate and awaits the review of House lawmakers. House Speaker T.W. Shannon has said he likes the bill’s intent, but wants to ensure that injured workers are adequately addressed by the bill. House Bill 2201would privatize CompSource Oklahoma.

The three tax cut bills would drop the top personal incom rate from 5.25 percent to either 4.99 percent, 5 percent, or 4.75 percent. Ultimately, the exact size of the cut will be determined by budget negotiations. I still want to make sure that if there is an income tax cut, then it is done responsibly. Many entities in a rural area such as my District could drastically be affected if cuts are implemented. I will watch this issue very closely and will address it further in the near future.  

I personally am against using a bond issue to repair the Capitol, but do not necessarily reject the idea of letting voters decide. In the meantime, we will be looking to pay for Capitol repairs bit by bit each year through appropriations.

I also want to note that my bill to link school board election dates to municipal elections in April remains alive. House Bill 1887 would improve voter turnout and reduce election costs.

Please provide any feedback and thoughts that you may have on policy. Please never hesitate to contact me at (405) 788-9160 or Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. Follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

House Votes to Provide State Employee Performance Incentive

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation that would make state jobs more competitive with the market was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

“The intent of the legislation is to address understaffing due to low pay in areas such as corrections, public safety and child welfare,” said Osborn, R-Mustang. “My legislation creates a one-time bonus of $1,000 as an incentive to help retain critical employees such as those who man our corrections facilities and haven’t received a raise since 2006, but it’s the study this bill authorizes that is really going to help create a market-based system that will address the need to make salaries more competitive.”

House Bill 1717, by state Rep. Leslie Osborn, would authorize a $1,000 performance-based bonus to state employees and initiate a study of state employee compensation for fiscal years 2013-2014.

According to the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, entry-level child welfare specialists are paid on average at 23 percent below the market and that corrections officers begin at $11.83 per hour.

“The state can’t keep jails adequately staffed at the current level of pay,” said Osborn. “We have to start making those salaries more competitive with the other job opportunities that are available for potential employees.”

House Bill 1717 was approved by a vote of 94-4 and now advances to the state Senate.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Bill Requiring Agencies to Prepare for Fiscal Emergency Passes the House Floor

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Speaker T.W. Shannon’s major initiative to prepare the state for a major cut in federal funding and still maintain core services for the people of Oklahoma.

House Bill 1917 initiates the Oklahoma State Finance Act, which calls for every state agency to report and prioritize all federal funding. The bill also mandates all state agencies create a contingency plan in preparation of a 25 percent reduction in federal funds.

“Today, more than 40 percent of our annual state budget is based on federal tax dollars,” said Speaker Shannon, R-Lawton. “The endless mandates and the lack of leadership from Washington, D.C. have left Oklahoma and the other 49 states dangerously dependent on federal funds and on the verge of a fiscal emergency.” 

The federal government came close to ending federal tax breaks and stopping funding to many programs in December 2012. The media dubbed that possible scenario as “the fiscal cliff” due to the tremendous impact it would have had on state budgets and family incomes. The country once again faced a similar financial “doomsday” scenario on March 1. Neither Congress nor President Obama acted to avoid this, and the country is now in sequestration.

If passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Mary Fallin, HB 1917 will go into immediate effect as an emergency action.

HB 1917 will now move on to the Senate.