Now that the dust has settled, it appears I was right; we didn't need to raise taxes as the governor and others insisted. We funded the agencies that take care of our most vulnerable without increasing the taxes on this same group of people – our lower and middle income families – that need these services the most.
The whole fiasco was a lie, and I’m furious our most vulnerable were used as pawns.
We need more accountability and to ensure our taxpayer dollars are being used for the services on which our citizens rely. There has to be reform and oversight for the bureaucracies that have become unaccountable and spend tax dollars like drunken sailors. The leaders of these agencies know all they need to do is threaten to cut off vulnerable services to leverage more tax money without accountability, i.e. raise taxes.
We have to have more accountability. Audits are an immediate must. Those who don’t want audits or who defend the frivolous spending will say "the agencies are audited every year." This is a talking point to justify more spending. The agencies do perform annual audits, but there’s a big difference in the kind now performed and the kind needed.
Let me explain. Right now, agencies only do an in-house balancing of a checkbook. What is needed, however, is a state performance audit conducted by the office of the state auditor and inspector or an independent auditor that studies the flow of resources and identifies inefficiencies, as well as pointing out where accountability is lacking. This would give taxpayers the confidence that their hard-earned tax dollar is well managed. If we follow a rigorous schedule of state performance audits, we will have less resistance from voters when a real need for a tax increase does exist. We currently have no clue or accountability of the expenditures.
If there is a dire need for more tax money to ensure core services are provided, these agency heads should be jumping up and down requesting these audits to prove a need. None have requested this so far.
If a proven need is discovered, only then should we consider raising more revenue, and that decision must go to a vote of the people.
A state performance audit focuses on process, efficiency and economy of operations. A forensic audit focuses on criminal corruption and is often done by the attorney general's office. The state could actually use a bit of both kinds of auditing right now.
For example, the state Department of Health has misappropriated over $30 million, the Department of Tourism has been identified as illegally manufacturing what is equivalent to "sawed off shotguns" and the Department of Labor is investigating the department for major violations.
We also have DHS that recently used our most vulnerable citizens, the elderly and disabled, by sending letters stating they would cancel programs because they didn’t have the money, all in an effort to support raising taxes. Of course that was not true. Even though DHS knew they would get the money needed for our most vulnerable they still sent letters that caused undue stress.
A recent news article also revealed that “DHS workers are blowing the whistle on Oklahoma's Child Protective Services, saying they are overburdened with extremely high caseloads and the state is covering it all up to comply with a court order. As a result, children aren't being protected like they should." It is completely unacceptable and criminal that an agency head would allow the abuse of our children and our state workers trying to protect these children.
As a result of this and other reported abuse, the House Special Investigation Committee has set up a whistleblower hotline. I encourage our state employees and others who have knowledge of these egregious acts to report them immediately to the hotline at (405) 962-7890.
Agency heads are supposed to be accountable to the governor as part of the executive branch. The Legislature is a separate branch of government that holds the power of the purse. This is just one way we provide checks and balances to ensure funds are not misappropriated and illegal acts not committed.
I, for one, will do what is necessary to ensure your tax dollars are spent correctly and core functions of government outlined in state statute are provided to you. I will not vote for any tax increases or additional dollars going to these agencies until they can prove a need and that they have been accountable for the money they receive.
The American people overwhelmingly voted to "drain the swamp" in D.C. during the last election. It’s time we focus on draining the swamp at 23rd and Lincoln in Oklahoma City.
John Bennett represents Oklahoma House District 2. He can be reached at (405) 557-7315 or John.Bennett@okhouse.gov.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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