This is conservatism? Fallin vetoes pension reform and government audits in OK

By   /   May 15, 2013  /   No Comments

By Patrick B. McGuigan | Oklahoma Watchdog

OKLAHOMA CITY – One of Gov. Mary Fallin’s recent vetoes kills an incremental pension reform; another smothers performance audits of government

FALLIN’S FAIL: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed two fiscally conservative bills in recent days, while repeating her advocacy of fiscal conservatism.

agencies.

This is conservatism?

Last week, the governor vetoed House Bill 2077, a desperately needed installment in Rep. Randy McDaniel’s push to bring discipline to state pensions. McDaniel wrote the historic reforms that trimmed billions from unfunded pension liabilities in 2011.

Fallin’s veto stops a pilot switch from defined benefits (in which retirees more or less get a guaranteed return regardless of how markets perform) to defined contributions (where markets matter, and an employee’s own willingness to pay in boosts the retirement fund).

McDaniel’s bill would have put all elected officials into a defined contribution system, while giving new state employees the option to join – a step appealing to younger workers.

But Fallin apparently vetoed it because her proposal to consolidate a half-dozen employee pension funds did not get past discussion stage.

She and state Treasurer Ken Miller want to put all the state funds into a single unit, saving a big chunk of change each year. It’s not a bad idea, but its failure is a poor excuse for her veto.

Government pensions are, as Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, has put it, “the issue that could implode us.”  McDaniel’s past efforts dramatically improved pension funding ratios. H.B. 2077 was needed now — after a year in which liabilities jumped $1 billion.

Fallin’s insistence on administrative consolidation now — to which she and her staff devoted little real energy — leaves the failing status quo in place for another year. This is not conservatism.

This week, Gov. Fallin vetoed Senate Bill 907, which would have created the Joint Legislative Committee on Accountability, to review executive branch agencies and request performance audits.

After three straight budget increases — despite campaigning as a government “right-sizer” — Fallin should have welcomed the help. Instead, she said the measure was unnecessary because both the governor and legislative leaders can request audits.

Sometimes, where you stand depends on where you sit, I guess.

Five years ago, then-Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, expressed disappointment when Brad Henry, a Democrat, vetoed Senate Bill 1865, which would have created a legislative committee on accountability.

Coffee said, “A lot of good ol’ boys at the State Capitol oppose the Senate Republicans‘ efforts to make state government more open, more efficient, more accountable, and more innovative.”

Not only that, “Gov. Brad Henry is apparently one of them.”

That was then. This is now. Coffee was Fallin’s first secretary of state. I’d be disappointed if he has changed his mind about keeping an eye on executive spending, but he left state office last winter.

Gary Jones, the Republican who now serves as auditor and inspector and would have been the guy to do performance audits, is disappointed in Fallin’s veto. He challenged her assertion that S.B. 907 was inconsistent with commitments to create streamlined and efficient government.

Jones said:

“It is flawed logic to think this will occur without a systematic review of state government performance conducted under government auditing standards by qualified professionals. Different people have been giving this issue lip service for 20 years. This veto really amounts to little more than ensuring that nothing is really going to change.”

Lip service, indeed. When is something really going to change?

Morton Blackwell of the Leadership Institute played a role in events that took me to the nation’s capitol in the 1980s. He often said, in conversations about incremental reforms, “Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

S.B. 907 and H.B. 2077 might not be perfect in Fallin’s mind, but they qualify as “the good.”

We’re down to the last few days of the 2013 legislative session. Government has grown for the third year in a row, and tax cuts have been delayed for at least two years.

If the Legislature is serious about fiscal conservatism, they need to send Fallin a message, and now. The Legislature should override these ill-advised vetoes.

Contact Patrick B. McGuigan, Oklahoma City bureau chief for the Watchdog.org network, at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

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Patrick B. McGuigan is bureau chief for the Oklahoma City Bureau of Watchdog.org, and works from the press room at the state Capitol. He is also the editor of CapitolBeatOK, and Associate Publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper. In 2013, The Washington Post blog “The Fix” designated Pat one of the best reporters in Oklahoma. In addition to the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists, where he serves as state secretary-treasurer, Pat is a member of the National Press Club and the Tulsa Press Club.

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