Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cockroft Column: Local Control Still The Answer

In the months following the tragic tornadoes this past spring there have been many issues that have been brought to the forefront of Oklahoma politics, but no issue has gained attention like that of availability of storm shelters across the state. Living in Oklahoma provides the distinct possibility individuals at home or work, as well as school students at their schools will have to take shelter from severe weather at some point in their lives. There has been one possible solution that has gained the attention of the media that I wanted to address.
    One of my colleagues in the House of Representatives, Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs) has started an effort towards an initiative petition to place on the ballot next November a $500 Million statewide bond issue to help local school districts pay for safe-room shelters in their schools. This petition would require 155,000 signatures from registered voters in the State of Oklahoma. State law gives supporters of a petition 90 days after it is filed to gather the signatures necessary, or 90 days after the Supreme Court determines the petition is sufficient.
    First off, I applaud Rep. Dorman and his efforts to look for a solution to this problem. As someone who represents an area hit hard by the storms it is very pleasing to see other lawmakers outside of this area look for ways to help and have a willingness to address the issues. I am very appreciative of that!
    However, I cannot agree that this is the right approach to addressing the problem of safe-room shelters in schools. I firmly believe that each school should have some sort of safe-room or location that can be used as an adequate shelter. My opposition is not to whether or not schools should have shelters; it is in the approach that has been taken. I don’t believe this is a state issue. I believe that each individual school district should continue to have the power to set bonds and make this a priority if they see fit.
     I have always been a huge supporter of local control in our education system so that each district has control over their needs and desires. It is somewhat surprising to me seeing Rep. Dorman who is also a proponent of local control pushing a non-local solution. If our schools see this as a priority, they have the ability to take control of this issue already without placing further bonded indebtedness upon our state.
    As with any issue, there has been mixed reactions within my district and the education community on this issue. There is much hesitation from a state standpoint as well. In my conversations with the Oklahoma Emergency Management Office as well as the Governor’s Office, they agree that this should be and is a local issue. However they have assured me that should this petition be placed on the ballot and passed next November, they will be ready with a plan to effectively and responsibly allocate this large amount of funds. They are already working on plans and guidelines on how this money will be spent and distributed to school districts across the state.

    Now that you know how I feel, let me know your thoughts. Please don’t hesitate to contact my office and share your opinion on this, or any other topic. My office can be reached at: 405-557-7349, or Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov. You can also follow me on Facebook: Representative Josh Cockroft, or Twitter: @VoteCockroft27. It is an honor to represent you at the State Capitol!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Weekly Column: Oklahoma Republicans Fighting Federal Intrusion

Did you know that there is approximately $60 trillion in currency currently circulating throughout the world? That is all the money that currently exists. Did you know that, when accounting for unfunded liabilities in Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, the United States currently has a debt of nearly $130 trillion? You read that correctly: the United States currently owes more than twice as much debt than could possibly be paid with all the money in the entire world.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that our nation is facing a fiscal crisis. In fact, two of the primary responsibilities of elected officials are to warn citizens of our financial situation and to take actions to correct it.

Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) has been doing that from the moment the Republican caucus elected him to lead the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Speaker Shannon has actively resisted implementing the federal “common core” educational standards and created the first standing legislative committee focused on protecting our state from federal intrusion. The House States’ Rights Committee was an active and integral part of the 2013 legislative session, hearing dozens of bills and resolutions that sought a balance between federal and state law.

One of Speaker Shannon’s first actions was to hold a legislative study last November to determine how state agency budgets would look if no federal funds were available to supplement their programs. Why? The reason is obvious. Our federal government is broke, yet federal funds make up more than 40 percent of our annual state budget. It seems reasonable to ask our state agencies to plan and prioritize spending on core mission efforts in the event the federal gravy train is closed.

Unfortunately, after winning broad legislative approval from both the House and Senate, Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed Shannon’s bill that would have required the agencies to comply and develop a contingency plan and budget for a 25-percent cut in federal funding. Fallin called the measure “duplicative” and “burdensome,” a decision that seems rather shortsighted given the current government shutdown our nation is embroiled in.

Even still, most of the Republican caucus supports those efforts to reduce dependency on the federal government because we know that Oklahomans can take care of Oklahoma. We don’t need the federal government to subsidize marginally useful and shockingly inefficient programs. The truth is, if Oklahomans believe those federally funded programs are so important, then they would be willing to pay more in state taxes to fund them, but, overwhelmingly, Oklahomans want lower taxes. In fact, a March 2013 survey conducted by SoonerPoll found that that 65 percent of likely Oklahoma voters would prefer to phase out the income tax without raising other taxes.

To me, that is clear evidence that Oklahomans want less dependency on the federal government and want their legislators to develop Oklahoma solutions to Oklahoma problems. I am proud of Speaker Shannon and my colleagues in the Republican caucus for standing up to the federal government and fighting to protect the individual liberty of every Oklahoman. And I am looking forward to taking up the battle again in 2014!

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to represent you at the Capitol. As always, I will keep you updated on the status of our great state. God bless you and God bless Oklahoma!

As always, feel free to contact me at (405) 557-7349 or at josh.cockroft@okhouse.gov.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Weekly Column: October 8, 2013

Next week, I am flying to Biloxi, Miss., for the Southern States Energy Board Conference after Speaker T.W. Shannon appointed me as the delegate from Oklahoma. The focus of the three-day conference will be to network and engage with lawmakers and energy industry professionals from across the energy states on policies and practices for a stronger industry. With today’s energy costs to both the providers and to the consumers at the pump steadily rising, efforts by policymakers nationwide should continue to look for ways to drive down those costs and find alternate energy sources.

Here in Oklahoma, we are extremely blessed to have multiple industries prevalent and thriving for our state’s economy and region’s benefit. We have one of the most profitable natural gas reservoirs in the country underneath us, one of the fastest-growing wind energy industries in the region in western Oklahoma, a strong coal industry in eastern Oklahoma, and plenty of Oklahoma sunshine for the solar industry. Oklahoma is in a great position to emerge as a national leader.

However, there are definitely roadblocks that stand in our way. While we do have enormous potential in our natural gas reservoirs, we simply don’t have the infrastructure in place yet to allow full potential. In some cases, we are waiting for technology to catch up to that potential. Those of you who have looked into natural gas technology for your vehicles understand the costliness of purchasing or converting those vehicles for natural gas. The reason for this is because the technology is fairly new and the infrastructure needed – gas stations – is fairly sparse across our state. As the industry grows, so will the infrastructure and the incredible cost benefits that have been promised.

However, one thing that I am personally wary of is not supporting special carve outs for the energy industry simply based on the incredible economic impact it has on our state. The policies that we pass as a state legislature should never favor one industry over another. True free market economics creates a level playing field for all businesses; large or small. As James Madison stated: “I own myself the friend to a very free system of commerce, and hold it as a truth, that commercial shackles are generally unjust, oppressive and impolitic–it is also a truth, that if industry and labor are left to take their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out.”

As I represent Oklahoma next week in Mississippi, I will be reminding everyone of the incredible potential Oklahoma presents to the entire region. We shine as a bright light, pointing to the fact that free market principles simply work, and that we are ready and open for business in all industries.

Let me know your thoughts of how we can make Oklahoma even better. It is an honor to serve you. I can be contacted atJosh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7349. I’m also on Facebook, just search Representative Josh Cockroft, and on Twitter, at VoteCockroft27.