IN pledging last year to give his $1.4 billion fortune to charity, Joseph Craft, head of Tulsa-based Alliance Resource Partners, said: “Opportunity presented by private enterprise and buttressed by a system of economic freedom allowed for my financial success. My hope is that this opportunity is available to anyone who chooses to embrace it in America.”
That economic freedom is still there, but it's slipping. The United States is now No. 10 in the world in the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, an annual ranking compiled since 1995 by the Heritage Foundation in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. The United States was ninth last year, and has seen its economic freedom slip for five straight years.
The Heritage index considers countries' rule of law, open markets, regulatory efficiency and limited government. The United States fared poorly in regulatory efficiency — gee, what a surprise under the Obama administration! — with declines in business freedom, monetary freedom and labor freedom. Increased government spending hurt our cause as well.
Heritage, a conservative think tank, said entrepreneurial growth in America “is stifled by ever-more-bloated government and a trend toward cronyism that erodes the rule of law.” Getting back toward the top of the economic freedom rankings will take significant policy reforms, “particularly in reducing size of government, overhauling the tax system, transforming costly entitlement programs and streamlining regulations.”
With Barack Obama in the Oval Office for another term, that climb is going to have to wait.
Up, up and away
A news story this month about Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak's use of state-owned aircraft left us with a few questions. Why does Doak feel the need to fly hither and yon as part of his job? The Tulsa World reported that only Gov. Mary Fallin has used state aircraft more than Doak. He used it in April to tour tornado damage, but also for speaking engagements and other meetings. Is that really necessary? Doak thinks so. Speaking of necessity, the story mentioned that Oklahoma has eight fix-winged aircraft — a King Air for use by the governor and her staff, and seven Cessna-type planes. Why? Perhaps the state would be better served to get rid of at least a few of those and consider replacing them with another helicopter for use in battling wildfires.
The Oklahoma City School Board this week denied applications from two charter schools. Why? That's anyone's guess. The district's legal counsel, Tammy Carter, gave board members a “confidential memorandum” spelling out problems with the charter school applications. She later rejected The Oklahoman's open records request to see the memo. Carter contends that because the memo was from her to the board, the documents are shielded by attorney-client privilege. According to the law, that privilege applies only if documents deal with pending litigation where disclosure “will seriously impair the ability of the public officer or agency to process the claim or conduct a pending investigation, litigation or proceeding in the public interest.” How does that apply in this case? It doesn't. As Oklahoma State University professor and open records expert Joey Senat put it: “The school district's playing games with the Open Records Act.” It's just the latest in a long line of cases where public bodies in Oklahoma have skirted, often intentionally, the state's open records and open meetings laws. Shameful.
Additional comp talk
The drumbeat for significant workers' compensation reform continues to grow louder. The Oklahoma Injury Benefit Coalition — a group of businesses pushing for change — says the need for something different needs to be a priority for the 2013 Legislature. “A system that was designed to protect employees has been transformed into an entitlement program for special interests that benefit by fueling friction and litigation that could be avoided,” said Becky Robinson, risk manager for Hobby Lobby and chairwoman of the coalition. The OIBC endorses the idea of allowing employers to “opt out” of the workers' comp system and manage their own injury benefit programs. The Legislature rejected that proposal last year. Whether it makes it to the finish line this year remains to be seen. But given Republican legislative leaders' stated intent to revamp the system, it seems clear that change of one sort or another is on the way.