COMMENTARY: Oklahoma’s failure at proactiveness stings during shutdown
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Published: 04-Oct-2013
OKLAHOMA CITY – Last spring, Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, sponsored House Bill 1917, dubbed the Office of State Finance Act. 

The bill would have required every agency in the state government to report all federal funding, and to prioritize it in terms of importance. 

Perhaps more significantly, Speaker Shannon’s bill would have required that every state agency create a “contingency plan” – to be ready to absorb a 25 percent cut in federal funding to our state

Shannon wanted the state to be ready for “a major cut in federal funding” – to be ready to respond in such a way that could “still maintain core services for the people of Oklahoma.”

As part of the discussion of the idea in the States’ Rights Committee, Chairman Lewis More, R-Arcadia, pressed for language that would clarify the “terms and conditions” attached to use of federal money – i.e., the strings attached.

The measure sailed through the committee 9-1, then passed overwhelmingly on the House floor. The Senate approved it shortly thereafter. 

Then, Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed the bill. She deemed it “well-intentioned, duplicative, burdensome.” She contended the information was already available and that the kind of planning envisioned in the Shannon bill was unnecessary 

That was then. This is now.

Earlier this week, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) said, concerning the shutdown, “Much of the federal money used by state government is forward-funded, which gives agencies enough federal cash on hand to continue those programs in the short-term. 

“A longer shutdown could create a more problematic situation, the scope of which is still being determined by each state agency that uses federal funding. Many Oklahoma state agencies are still waiting to hear from their federal counterparts about how a shutdown could affect federal funds that are passed on to state agencies.

“The picture will be clearer once the federal government definitively reports to states what funds will be unavailable if a shutdown occurs.”

It was, no doubt, an honest answer. But notice: Our state government is waiting to hear how the feds will apportion resources. Our state government is waiting, in short, to react – rather than to act after forethought and preparation.

There are a few words to which we are growing accustomed. Sequestration. Shutdown. Debt Ceiling. We heard them a lot last winter, we’re hearing them a lot right now, and will hear them more in just a few days, around the mid-October (or thereabouts) date for a debt ceiling extension. 

The new normal is budgeting strife, but most political leaders are reluctant to incorporate that into their rhetoric, let along their policies.

At the time of the state House committee debate in February, Shannon reflected: “The federal spending machine has spiraled out of control, and the Congress and the President are either incapable or unwilling to do what needs to be done. The endless mandates and the lack of leadership from Washington, D.C. have left the states dangerously dependent on federal funds and on the verge of a fiscal emergency.” 

These are not remarkable sentiments, coming from a conservative Oklahoma Republican. What makes the words distinctive, however, was and is Speaker Shannon’s willingness to act on the logic of his rhetoric – to get our state ready for the fiscal challenges, let alone the financial Armageddon that we keep managing to delay. 

It brings to mind those enjoyable AT&T advertisements, where a man sits in apparently unscripted (or cleverly produced) discussions with children, posing questions like “which is better: more or less?” and “which is better: faster or slower?”

What should be an adult conversation about the size of government should begin with this opening question: “Which is better: planning ahead, or waiting until the last minute and reacting without all the information in front of you?” 

On House Bill 1917, Shannon was right. Fallin was wrong. 

So, we’re limping along using a script written by President Barack Obama and much of the national news media rather than by the elected representatives of the people of Oklahoma. 

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