COMPLAINTS by lawmakers about release of water from Canton Lake remind us of disgruntled heirs carping over an aging parent spending their inheritance.
Oklahoma City is exercising its legal right to take water from Canton to replenish local lakes drawn down by lack of rain. This is a bridge too far for Canton Lake and northwest Oklahoma partisans — just as the city's use of southeast Oklahoma water has been.
“Where is their water conservation plan?” asked state Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher. He blamed the Canton transfer on a planning failure. Actually, it's a routine move to rebuild levels at Lake Hefner after months of below-normal rainfall. Oklahoma City waited to make the change until Hefner got quite low and even delayed the transfer until a recent rain made the North Canadian riverbed more suitable for a transfer. That in itself is a conservation plan.
Conflicts over water between urban and nonurban areas are age-old, but the law is clearly on Oklahoma City's side. Just as it's everyone's right to spend money instead of saving it for another's inheritance, the city is doing what's in the best interest of the people who pay local water bills and who must adopt their own conservation plans to save money and to obey rationing restrictions whenever they're imposed.
Meantime, billions of gallons of water have been flowing into the Red River because the state lacks the political will to turn this wasted treasure into cash by selling the water to urban areas in North Texas.
No laughing matter
In a monologue this week, Jay Leno noted that Subway Restaurants had apologized to customers who may have been served foot-long subs that didn't measure 12 inches. “Is that how fat we've gotten in this country now — where we're threatening legal action if our subs are an inch too short?” Actually, yes. In New Jersey and Chicago, the sandwich chain is the subject of lawsuits over not-quite-foot-longs. Plaintiffs want $5 million in damages and hope to have their claim declared a class action. Meantime in California, two people who read Lance Armstrong's autobiography have filed suit claiming Armstrong's denial of using performance-enhancing drugs was fraudulent and false advertising. They're also seeking class certification. Lawsuit reform, anyone?
A passing grade
Given the many instances of state and local officials ignoring or trying to work around Oklahoma's open record and open meeting laws, we braced for the worst when the Sunshine Review posted its website transparency report card this week. But the news was actually pretty good. Oklahoma got a grade of B-minus, not bad considering no state graded better than a B-plus. Sunshine Review looked at government websites for states and their largest counties, cities and school districts, and measured available content against a checklist of information it believes all governments should provide. Oklahoma received Bs for state and county websites, a C for city sites, and a D-plus for school districts. That last grade is disappointing but not unusual — Sunshine Review said only 20 percent of school district websites nationwide warranted at least a B.
Why punish victims?
We've noted before that human trafficking is a growing problem in Oklahoma, due in part to having three major interstate highways in our state. The issue arose again recently in Tulsa when a prostitution bust turned up several women claiming to have been kidnapped, held against their will and forced into prostitution. Police are investigating those claims, but in the meantime one of the women has been arrested on a complaint of soliciting prostitution within 1,000 feet of a church or school and is being held on a $1,500 bond. If that seems unfair, state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, agrees. She's filed legislation to allow expungement of law enforcement and court records of any prostitution conviction incurred by a victim of human trafficking. That's an idea legislators should seriously consider. It makes no sense to punish victims for the crimes of their abusers.
Laboratories of democracy
States are considered laboratories of democracy because state policies can become the basis for future federal policies. Thanks to overwhelming one-party rule in many states, Republican and Democrats now have the chance to test-drive very different policy approaches. Stateline.org notes that 166 million people live in the 25 states where Republicans have full control, while 93 million live in 13 states where Democrats hold sway. In 22 states, including Oklahoma, one party has a veto-proof majority in both chambers. The competition between those states will be instructive. While states like Oklahoma consider tax cuts, states such as Minnesota are looking at tax increases. Blue states are pushing gun control; red states are seeking to expand gun rights. On these and many other issues, states' differing policies will offer a stark contrast, and the results will influence the advancement of conservative or liberal governing philosophies at the federal level.
Picking his battles
State Rep. Josh Cockroft made his point. Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, filed a bill to gradually end state funding for the Oklahoma Arts Council. It had little chance of being approved — that was clear in comments supportive of the arts made by members of House and Senate budget subcommittees. Cockroft recognized that by not making it one of his top priority bills for this session. After the bill was effectively shelved by House leadership this week, he said he didn't file it solely to try to get a bill passed. Instead, “It's to merely point to a bigger conversation which I think we need to be having — which is, can we make sure that every dollar's going where it absolutely needs to go?” It's a good question, one lawmakers should ask regularly as they prepare to spend taxpayer money.
Education challenge not just money
In a “cold day in hell” moment, the House Democratic caucus is enthusiastically backing Republican state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi. Barresi is seeking nearly $300 million more for public schools this year. Last year she sought a $157 million increase that the Legislature ultimately rejected. Democrats have made Barresi's latest budget request part of their 2013 agenda, although they don't explicitly acknowledge it, choosing to call the item “the State Board of Education's request.” That's likely because Democrats have made opposing Barresi and education reform a major emphasis and don't want their base to realize agreement exists. Barresi has rightfully shifted education policy to focus on results — student and school performance — not just appropriations, but she acknowledges the need for funding. If most Democrats emulated Barresi by supporting not only additional spending but also school improvement, Oklahoma students would be better off.
Thanks for your time
Well, that didn't last long. This week President Barack Obama announced he was disbanding his jobs council. Obama formed the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness — a group of businessmen and women from across the country — in January 2011, shortly after Democrats got hammered in midterm congressional elections. The council ostensibly was aimed at coming up with ways to improve the economy. But the president met just four times with the group during its two-year run, and not at all after February of last year. Unemployment was above 9 percent when the council formed. Now it's at 7.9 percent, with more than 12 million still out of work. Administration officials say Obama will continue to seek input from business leaders about how to help the economy. But many have already told him that new and stricter federal regulations are a huge problem. How's that worked out for them?