IN government, even good news can become bad news.
Consider: Tax collections in Oklahoma are at an all-time high, yet state lawmakers still face a “shortfall” of $188 million when drafting the state budget. This is occurring because so much money is skimmed off the top for directly apportioned uses, creating an artificial reduction in the amount available through the Legislature’s state budget drafting process.
Here’s another example: State general revenue fund (GRF) collections in February increased by $16.1 million compared with the same month last year — yet they were also $23.7 million below the official estimate.
It’s not that tax collections are falling, nor is it that tax collections aren’t increasing. The problem is that tax collections aren’t increasing as much as state lawmakers anticipated when drafting the current fiscal year budget.
February’s GRF collections were up by 6.3 percent compared with last year, but lawmakers expected collections to increase 15 percent that month. The same trend has occurred all year. For the first eight months of the current state budget year, GRF collections totaled $3.5 billion, which is 0.2 percent more than prior year collections, but still $174 million less than expected.
Fortunately, lawmakers budget no more than 95 percent of the amount projected — to create a cushion for times like these. The current-year shortfall hasn’t yet forced actual mid-year budget cuts. Even so, many citizens will find it bewildering that ever-increasing state tax collections are coinciding with a state budget “shortfall.”
Flat earth society
The high point in Kansas is 936 feet lower than the highest point in Oklahoma. That the apex of Kansas is on a featureless plain euphemistically dubbed “Mt. Sunflower” contributes to the image of its being the flattest of the 50 states. In fact, the American Geographical Society announced last week, some six states are flatter than Kansas. Florida, with a high point of only 345 feet above sea, takes the flattest honor. Illinois is second. West Virginia, not Colorado, is considered the least flat. Flatness isn’t measured solely by high points vs. low points. Relatively speaking, no state is flatter than a pancake. All states have their ups and downs, but Kansas will continue to be misperceived as the flat-out flattest of these United States. As for the low point in Kansas, it’s just across the Oklahoma line at Coffeyville, at 3,360 feet lower than the high spot near the Colorado border. Oklahoma’s nadir is in the southeastern corner at just under 300 feet above sea level. The difference in that and the highest point at Black Mesa is the equivalent of seven or eight Devon Towers stacked on top of each other.
This we can deduce from a vote in the Oklahoma House of Representatives: Members are concerned about tongue piercings. Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, put forth a bill that would make the state Board of Health craft a statement advising clients of the dangers of these procedures. Kern said many young people are piercing their tongues unaware of the health risks. Her bill would require the Board of Health to include some of those potential consequences. Among them, she said, are a weakening of the heart valves and contamination that can lead to a loss of teeth. “It is the job of the state to help ensure the safety and well-being of the health of its citizenry, as well as to protect the consumer,” Kern said. Her colleagues did more than give lip service to the bill. They voted 92-0 to send it along to the Senate.
Whether a human fetus can feel pain during an abortion is considered by some as a question that scientists should avoid discussing. Said one scientist on this topic: “Abortion is not a scientific question. It is a moral and political question. To try and make science answer a moral question like that is just wrong. It’s cowardice on the part of lawmakers.” The Washington Post devoted a lengthy story recently to efforts to determine whether lower forms of animal life can feel pain. It’s an open question with varying answers, depending on who’s being asked. Still, we can’t help but think that if science conclusively determines that lobsters feel pain when thrown into boiling water, a cry will go out to discourage or even ban the practice. Not so with abortion. Fetal pain may not be “settled science,” but many Americans and the courts consider the abortion issue as being settled morally and politically. We suspect more than a few abortion-rightsers don’t eat meat or shellfish as a matter of moral principle and would use the political system to advance an agenda if and when science empties the net of doubt about whether crustaceans feel pain.
State Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, is using television ads and mailers to bombard voters with the message that he’s conservatives’ best choice to replace Tom Coburn in the U.S. Senate. This week Shannon’s campaign distributed an endorsement from the darling of the tea party, Sarah Palin. “Tom Coburn leaves large conservative shoes to fill as he retires from the U.S. Senate,” Palin said. “At 6’5 feet tall, T.W. Shannon is just the leader to fill them.” His height notwithstanding, the endorsement is an indication of the tack Shannon will take as he runs against U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City. He is aligning himself with the furthest right faction of the GOP, and banking on Oklahomans wanting as their senator a person in the mold of Ted Cruz or Mike Lee. We’ll know later this summer whether they do.
As the Democratic candidate for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, Alex Sink enjoyed many advantages over her two opponents. Sink had carried the district when running for governor in 2010. She had strong name recognition, plenty of money to spend, and the comfort of knowing President Barack Obama had carried the district in his two presidential campaigns. Yet it was Republican David Jolly who won in Tuesday’s special election to fill the seat of the late Republican U.S. Rep Bill Young (a libertarian also was on the ballot). Observers felt Jolly, who unlike Sink had to compete in a runoff, ran only a so-so campaign — and still he won. The result may not ultimately add up to anything. But it should make Democrats nervous about the prospects of retaining the U.S. Senate this fall. As Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen told Newsmax, “This election represents a repudiation of the Democrats and Obama.”
No more party favors
The days of taxpayers footing the bill for national political conventions are coming to an end. This week the U.S. Senate sent to the president a bill abolishing the practice. The measure had previously been OK’d in the House of Representatives. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, worked several years to end the funding, which came to $36 million in 2012. “Hardworking taxpayers will no longer have to fund summertime party junkets for the political class,” Coburn said. Instead, they’ll fund research into pediatric diseases. The money that would have gone to conventions will now be directed to the National Institutes of Health. That’s a much more worthy cause, to be sure, but the swap underscores just how difficult it is to actually cut spending in Washington.