Sally Kern discusses budget crunch and ‘core functions’ of government

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 08-Apr-2010

In an interview at her office in the state Capitol this week, state Rep. Sally Kern reflected on the state’s ongoing budget and revenue crunch which has dominated most of this reporter’s interviews throughout this legislative session: “I think we’re doing as well as can be expected. Personally, I have believed we should have been more frugal during the past four years.”

She continued, “Fortunately, our state has done well. But Oklahoma could have been better off on the budget side if we’d been more conscientious the last few years. So, it comes down to this: We’re doing a pretty good job in light of the bad economy and the budget but I believe we could do better.”

News of several steps to trim state Senate staff spending led her to comment on House-side spending: “The House had already cut out state-funded travel. And the speaker had already trimmed the constituent mailings. This year, there will be no end-of-session mailings. For some time, we have avoided filling staff positions. We could be doing more furloughs in the House itself.  From what I’m hearing, we could make even less use of legislative assistants during the interim between sessions. Our part-time slots for work here at the House may be trimmed.”

A strong conservative, Rep. Ken nonetheless expressed “some anxiety and concern about the budget cuts that are affecting senior citizens, and the mental health and substance abuse programs. Certain people are in dire straits as a result of budget cuts, and that is through no fault of their own. Although I am a former public school teacher, I believe that Higher Education and Common Education could be tightening their belt a little bit more, in the situation we presently face.”

As vice-chairman of the House Education Committee, Rep. Kern has helped shepherd many proposals, including Senate Bill 2129, which created a “Virtual School Task Force” to examine online education, and S.B. 1633, the School District Transparency Act to require that school district financial data be posted on line.

Kern explained her approach to “core government functions” and areas she regards as less central or appropriate for government involvement: “I have never been one to vote for funding for the Arts Council or things like the Gun Museum. I have nothing against those causes but I believe we have to look at what is appropriate for government to do, and what should be left to the private sector. Those two are not core government functions and I believe they could be handled better privately.”

She continued, “Another broad area that is a legitimate function of government is public safety, and I’m certainly concerned about the cuts to police and fire agencies.

This has been a difficult year. I believe that we made the hard but right budget cuts overall, and it appears we will have to continue to do that for some time to come.”

Asked to identify a priority for the remainder of this session, Rep. Kern said, “We must do the right thing with the fiscal year 2011 budget because 2012 will be just as tough or even tougher. There is no alternative but to be as frugal as we can be.”

On budgeting, Ken commented, “If I made one suggestion, it would be to have an Interim Study on how other states do their budget processes. I’d like to have some comparison of our process with theirs, to see if we work as wisely and efficiently as we can.”

Rep. Kern is an abortion foe, and is a co-sponsor of House Bill 2780, limiting “wrongful birth” and “wrongful life” torts. She also helped advance H.B. 2956, aimed at limiting the use of children in lottery advertisements. She has supported Speaker-designate Kris Steele’s efforts to authorize a pilot program to reduce the number of incarcerated non-violent female offenders.

Rep. Kern said she considers the most satisfying aspect of her job to be “meeting the people of my district and of the entire state. To meet them and try to help them when they have practical problems is very rewarding. The hard parts of my job have been very difficult, but the people I’ve really enjoyed immensely. I must also say I enjoy the time I spend working with my colleagues – and that includes those I disagree with from time to time.

Her greatest frustration has been, “without a doubt, …   the way the news media can misrepresent or distort what you’re trying to do. My husband and I have been in ministry for over 30 years. In all those years, I’ve never had my integrity or purpose questioned, but I’ve had that kind of questioning in some of the stands I’ve taken. It’s been hard to be questioned, especially in terms of integrity, for standing for what I think the Bible teaches. That has been a different kind of thing to deal with. I know who I am and what my motivation is, so I’ve hung in there.”

Rep. Kern said, “My story is not difficult or hard to understand, but it’s been a blessing. I am a minister’s wife, a schoolteacher, and a coach. I taught American government and I coached golf, softball and volleyball. I was never a political person until I got involved in the legislative race. I’d never done even precinct meetings.

“When I felt called to run, I found that ‘we the people’ are indeed the government. We need people to get involved who are convicted in their principles and beliefs, and who are assured they are doing what is right. I believe we have to take a stand for freedom and for the morality that made our country great. “