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AUDITOR: Let the Audit Speak for Itself

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At the State Auditor’s Office, we focus on two primary matters – accountability and transparency. To achieve these two objectives, our work must be beyond reproach and the entanglement of politics.

Ours is a constitutionally-created, independent office with the principal purpose to examine and inspect whether public officials properly expended public funds.

The constitution names the State Auditor before the Attorney General. We are not agents of the Attorney General and we do not work for the Attorney General.

Our audits examine public records. We look at how public funds are spent. A finding of probable fraud, waste, or abuse is only stated when fully supported by financial records and other evidence.

The Special Investigative Audit of the Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust (LICRAT) was a review of public documents to determine if the LICRAT Board complied with state law in the expenditure of public funds. Special Audits differ from other types of audits because we are not required to conduct these audits in accordance with government auditing standards.

A Special Audit must be requested and conducted when financial mismanagement is believed to have occurred. The LICRAT Special Audit was initially sought by for U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. The only reason to involve the AG was because his office is one of five statutorily permitted ways to request a Special Audit. The audit was conducted on behalf of Oklahoma taxpayers.

The former attorney general acted improperly when he shared the contents of the audit report with the subject of the audit. The impropriety was further compounded when he refused to share the audit with the people who paid for it – the taxpayers of Oklahoma.

The LICRAT audit wasn’t about Scott Pruitt, left-wing environmentalists, Andy Lester, or politics. As the State Auditor, I have taken the position that the people of our state deserve to know why the LICRAT Board spent over $3.6 million on a project when the cost could have been less than $600,000.

If, as Mr. Pruitt’s spokesman stated, the audit was “shoddy,” then release it so the public can make that determination. If, as Mr. Lester stated, the audit report determined “no direct evidence of a conspiracy against the state,” then release the audit so the public can make that determination.

The State Auditor is the fact finder, not the prosecutor. The sole discretion to prosecute is always retained by the prosecutor.

The only issue here is when the prosecutor determines not to proceed – don’t cover up the issue by withholding a public document, paid for with public funds, and conducted on behalf of the public.

Audits are complicated. Many times, fraud and embezzlement are complicated. Often audits are confusing to prosecutors who aren’t confident they can sufficiently explain it to a jury in order to obtain a guilty verdict. As such, much white-collar crime goes unprosecuted.

I have confidence in the work product of our office, its people, and their professionalism. We stand by the courage of our convictions while others cast aspersions on the reputation and integrity of those who favor accountability and transparency.

Let the Audit Speak for itself.

NOTE: Oklahoma State Auditor Gary Jones doesn’t issue many news releases. As auditor, he has consistently taken the position that an audit should speak for itself. Since taking office in 2011, Gary has issued 15 news releases, of which, four were about a specific audit.

The marathon continues

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We now have six weeks left in the first session of the 56th Legislature. My first session at the Capitol has flown by so far, and now is the time we really start getting into specifics with appropriations and budget bills.

 

Committee meetings wrapped up on April 13, so most bills that did not clear committee are dead for the remainder of the session. However, there is an exception for revenue-related legislation. The Appropriations & Budget Committee’s deadline is April 20, but there is some flexibility on that deadline as well, and it is not unusual to see additional bills pop up after that date.

 

I’m sure many of you are aware of the budget proposals that are being floated. The governor has her plan; the Democrats in the House proposed one of their own; even the state auditor has come up with a tax proposal. I’m sure you are wondering where we Republicans are in our budget process.

 

There are many items still up in the air, but House Republicans are about to start proposing several building blocks for a balanced budget. Leadership has a plan in place, and we will begin taking up revenue-raising measures as well as other possible solutions in the next couple of weeks. Chances are there will be a number of tax credits, exemptions and deductions on the table before we see anything like a tax increase. I plan on reviewing every proposal carefully as we seek to close the $878 million projected shortfall in next year’s budget. As those bills come up, I will be sure to update you with any major developments.

 

Even though budget work has yet to be finalized, the Judiciary – Criminal Justice & Corrections Committee and the Public Safety Committee passed some significant criminal justice reform measures last week. These bills were part of Gov. Mary Fallin’s justice reform package and are meant to better Oklahoma’s corrections system. I’m not in either committee, but I was glad to hear the bills are progressing, and I look forward to voting on them when the measures come before the House floor.

 

If you remember, we are currently hearing Senate bills in the House. The third-reading deadline for those Senate bills is April 27, meaning all of those measures will have to receive a hearing by that date to stay alive. At that point, the House will review any amendments senators added to our legislation. If we approve those changes, the bills can progress to the governor’s desk. If we do not approve the amendment, the bill can go to a conference committee to iron out any details.

 

As always, please feel free to reach out if you need anything. Being your state representative is one of the most gratifying jobs I have ever had, and I want to do as much good as I can. You can call my Capitol office at (405) 557-7327 or email me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov. Thank you, and God bless.

Oklahoma Senate approves FY’19 budget giving education, mental health, criminal justice reform significant increases

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday approved a $7.6 billion general appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2019 that gives significant funding increases for common education, mental health services, child welfare programs, and criminal justice reform.

“For the first time in years, we have a budget in which no agency receives a cut. The budget contains a 19 percent increase for common education, more than $24 million for the Department of Human Services to fully fund the Pinnacle Plan, and $11 million for multiple criminal justice reform measures,” said President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus. “This budget puts additional resources toward core services like education, mental health, child welfare services, and public safety. And early approval of this budget increases the likelihood the Legislature can adjourn early, saving the additional costs of a few more weeks of session.”

“In this budget, Oklahoma Senate Republicans undeniably have demonstrated our commitment to education. This budget contains $365 million for a $6,100 on average teacher pay raise, $52 million for support staff raises, $33 million for textbooks, and $17 million in new funding for the school funding formula. We also secured $7.5 million in funding for concurrent enrollment. Education is important to the success of our state which is why Senate Republicans worked so hard to secure significant increases for our students, teachers, and schools in this budget,” Schulz said.

Senate Appropriations Chair Kim David, R-Porter, said, “After years of economic recession in Oklahoma that led to massive cuts to the state budget, our state has finally turned the corner and this year’s budget reflects that. The fiscal year 2019 budget has $260 million in growth revenue due to policy changes and growth in the economy. That growth means our budget is on more stable financial footing because it has greatly reduced our reliance on so-called ‘one-time money.’ It’s a great feeling to have no agency budget cuts, and instead have a budget that puts significantly more money toward education, mental health services, and public safety.”

Highlights of the FY’19 budget:

– $7.6 billion budget

  • Approximately $745 million increase over FY’18$365 million for teacher pay raises
  • $54 million for state employee raises
  • $260 million in growth revenue
  • No cuts for any agency

– $2.9 billion for common education, a 19 percent increase

  • $6,100 teacher pay raise, on average
  • $52 million for support staff raises
  • $33 million for textbooks
  • $17 million in new state-aid funding formula
  • $7.5 million increase for concurrent enrollment

– $24.6 million funding increase for Department of Human Services, fully funding Pinnacle Plan

  • 7 percent increase for Medicaid Advantage waiver, Developmental Disability and Group Home rate increases
  • 5 percent increase on foster care and adoption rates
  • $2 million increase for the Developmental Disabilities Services Division (DDSD) wait list

– $11 million in criminal justice reform initiatives

  • $5 million to Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
  • $1.1 million to Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS)
  • $1 million to District Attorney’s Council

– $2 million for agency performance audits conducted by Agency Performance and Accountability Commission

– $4.8 million to Department of Corrections to implement electronic offender management system

– $4 million to Office of Emergency Management for disaster relief

– $400,000 to Department of Agriculture for rural fire fighters

Republicans Blame Democrats for Failed Vote on Teacher Pay Raise

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Here Is Where the Blame Lies

On Wednesday night, March 14, the Oklahoma Senate Republicans once again offered a bill that would raise enough revenue to give every Oklahoma teacher a 12.7 percent ($5,000 average) pay raise, provide state employees a $2,500 raise, and restore the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). It was essentially the same revenue bill the Democrats in the Senate supported in November.

Wednesday night they voted against the bill.

Why?

As one Democratic Senator told me, “It doesn’t meet the ask.”

What is the ask?

Well, depending on who you talk with, the Dems want a revenue increase of as much as $1.5 billion. One Democratic Senator told me that they couldn’t support the bill because the Oklahoma Educators Association (OEA) doesn’t want them to. After all, the OEA is the one making the ask. This is the same OEA that joined House Republicans a couple months ago at a press conference to support essentially the same plan as being good for education.

So it seems that a $5,000 pay increase for teachers isn’t enough. They want $10,000, despite the fact that the 12.7% increase we have presented raises the average teacher salary higher than is found in any of the surrounding states, except Texas.

They want a billion-and-a-half dollars for education, or nothing.

That, despite the fact that over 50 percent of our appropriated dollars go to education, despite the fact that we have other pressing issues to deal with, like the fact that our prisons are at 113 percent capacity.  Despite the fact that other essential services are crying for funding, everything from senior nutrition to our medical schools.

But apparently if the OEA wants all or nothing, the Democrats march in lock step. And, of course, there is the politics. With state-wide elections coming up in November, it seems that the Democrats prefer to shut down good policy so they can have a campaign issue in the fall.

That is unfortunate for Oklahoma.

The bill, HB1033xx, has a decent chance of being passed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

There is an increase of the gross production tax (GPT) on all oil and gas wells to four percent, a $1.00 tax on cigarettes and a six cent excise tax increase on motor fuels. After 36 months, all wells increase to seven percent GPT. The motor fuel tax will still be lower than it is in surrounding states. Issues that lost votes in the House last time have been reduced or modified to pick up those votes.

I don’t think there was a Republican on the floor who voted for this tax increase who actually liked everything in the package. That includes me. However, if we want to meet some very real needs in this state, we need to increase revenue.

The revenue package we voted on Wednesday night is a reasonable way to get there. We lowered the ask on the cigarette tax by 50 cents from the last time we ran something like this, when it passed the Senate overwhelmingly. We changed the GPT increase from just new wells to all wells. We kept the motor fuels excise tax the same (more than 40 percent of which will be paid for by visitors to the state). That tax has not been increased in 31 years.

It seems that the Democrats were for this bill, before they were against it.

I guess it all depends on which way the political winds are blowing for them at a given moment. I, and the vast majority of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, many of whom will be hurt politically by their votes on this, prefer to pursue sound policy.

I welcome your questions and concerns, so please feel free to contact my office at the State Capitol if you would like to discuss a particular issue or problem.  Our office can be reached by phone at 405-521-5561 or by email at bergstrom@oksenate.gov.   If you visit the Capitol, we are located in Room 428B.

From the office of Sen. Chris Kidd

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As many of you know, state budgets for the last few years have been deficient resulting in drastic cuts, revenue failures, and budget shortfalls. The last year and a half, we have worked tirelessly to correct Oklahoma’s budget. This is not an easy fix but a multi-faceted approach. This past year, we have made tremendous headway in putting Oklahoma on a firm foundation.

One area we focused on in correcting the budget was our state agencies.  By passing several budget limit bills, we now have more legislative oversight of agency spending to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly and efficiently. 

At the same time we were focusing on efficiencies, we were also giving our attention to revenue that’s sustainable and long term. The votes I had to cast to provide more revenue were by no means easy, even painful at times. As difficult as it was, those votes resulted in much needed recurring revenue into the state’s budget.

With the appropriation reforms and revenue-raising measures my colleagues and I passed this session, we can now properly fund our government with no agency cuts in the FY’19 budget. Things are beginning to turn around for Oklahoma.

The Treasurer’s office announced this week that gross receipts for April were up 15% over last April. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) reported that March General Revenue Fund collections were $405.5 million, an increase of 15.2 percent above March 2017 collections. In addition, gross receipts have shown continual growth for the last 13 months. Moody’s, one of the nation’s top credit-rating agencies, also issued a credit-positive report for Oklahoma earlier this month.

Most notably, lawmakers passed legislation raising salaries for all teachers, support staff and most state employees, impacting thousands of Oklahoma families with increased compensation for their service to the state. 

With the hundreds of bills and issues we tackled, this past session was difficult to say the least, but progress was made.  There’s always more that can be done and now session is over, and as we go into the interim, we will continue working to put Oklahoma on a firm foundation.

At the State Senate, I can be reached by writing to Senator Chris Kidd, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 411A, Oklahoma City, OK 73105, emailing me at kidd@oksenate.gov, or by calling (405) 521-5563 and speaking to my assistant Suzanne Earnest.

Senate approves bill requiring immediate reporting of child abuse

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OKLAHOMA CITYOn Thursday, the Senate gave unanimous approval to legislation modifying child abuse reporting requirements.  House Bill 2259, by Rep. Dell Kerbs and Sen. Ron Sharp, requires individuals, especially educators, to report suspected child abuse or neglect of those 17 years or younger immediately to the DHS Child Abuse Hotline and those 18 years or older to law enforcement.

“Current law advises people to reports suspected abuse and neglect ‘promptly’ but this term is obviously getting misinterpreted as many cases aren’t being reported for several days or weeks after it’s discovered,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee.  “As a former educator, I’m glad that the bill specifically requires teachers to report suspected abuse and neglect as these are the people who spend the most time with these kids and can recognize changes in behavior or see evidence of abuse.  For most kids, schools are safe zones and they trust their teachers and often open up about violence in their home.  Hopefully, this change will help protect more of Oklahomans children and get them away from bad situations.”

HB 2259 was requested by the Department of Human Services and the Department of Education. Under Oklahoma statutes, “teachers” include administrators, counselors and classroom instructors.

“I’m pleased to have authored this measure that will put a clear and transparent law into place to ensure children who are abused or neglected will have immediate help,” said Kerbs, R-Shawnee.

HB 2259 now goes to the Governor for final consideration

Statement from Senate Democrats on Oklahoma Teacher Walkout

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OKLAHOMA CITY- Senate Democratic Leader John Sparks released the following statement on behalf of the Senate Democratic Caucus:

“Today the Senate Democratic Caucus welcomed thousands of educators, parents, students, and concerned citizens to the Capitol. We stand with them in their fight to properly fund public education in Oklahoma.

Paying our teachers a fair and competitive salary is a priority, but this movement is about more than just teacher pay, it’s about the chronic underfunding of public education in Oklahoma.

Over the last decade state funding for public education is down $180 million, marking a 28% cut. Since the 2013-14 school year, student enrollment has grown by 15,000 students but there are 700 fewer teachers in our public schools, with 20% of public school districts in Oklahoma moving to four day school weeks.

Our students deserve better. We need to restore funding for education which has been slashed by years of tax cuts. The legislature passed a revenue package last week, but more work needs to be done to provide sustainable revenues for education.

Last month the Senate passed SB 1086, bipartisan legislation to eliminate the capital gains tax loophole, which would bring in an additional $100 million in revenue for education. We urge the House to take action and pass the bill this week so we can make a serious investment in Oklahoma’s classrooms.”

Ever wanted to own a herd of Bison? You can bid on them right now…..

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Have you ever wanted to own a herd of bison? If so, you can bid on 55 of them right now. The information can be found on the Oklahoma state surplus website (see link below).

The Bison have been wormed but have not had any vaccines and do not have any vet records. Therefore, you would be buying them as is.

If you happen to be the lucky one to have the winning bid you will be responsible for loading and removal of all the animals within 10 business days of the auction close.

The animals are located at the Foss State Park in Foss, Oklahoma.

Of course, that’s not all you can bid on. There are tons of other neat stuff there as well.  In the few short moments there I saw some air compressors, whistles, light poles, vehicles, travel trailers and lots of other things no person should be without.

If you are interested in the Bison, you will need to get your bid in before the deadline on May 16, 2018.

For more information visit: https://pay.apps.ok.gov/dcs/surplus/auction/index.php

 

Senate Review March 22 2018

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We’re into the second half of the legislative session.  Being that last week was the deadline for floor action on Senate bills, we were extremely busy.  We heard more than 300 bills in the last two weeks. 

Senate Republicans voted strongly (85%) in favor of the revenue package presented Thursday night through HB 1033.  We voted on HB 1033 that would generate $450 million for a 12.7 percent teacher pay raise and a $2,500 state employee raise.  The measure would have increased the GPT from 2-4 percent on all wells ($126 million); increase the gas diesel tax by six cents ($170 million); and increase the cigarette tax by $1/ pack ($152 million). 

            SB1033 failed by two votes, only two votes away from the constitutionally-required three-fourths majority.  But we’re not done.  We will keep working to find a solution to create revenue that our Democratic colleagues can agree with.  While the bill to pay for the raise failed, the actual bill (SB133) creating the raise passed overwhelmingly so as soon as we find a revenue source, the vehicle is there ready to move forward.

Unfortunately, revenue raising measures must get approved by 75 percent of both the Senate and House.  In the Senate that is 36 votes and in the House, it’s 76 votes.

The source of the gridlock in Oklahoma is that we require super majority approval for revenue raising measures. SQ 640, enacted by voters in 1992, has led to the current gridlock and made it virtually impossible to approve reasonable revenue plans to shore up the state budget and provide teacher and state employee pay raises. 

The Senate recently approved SJR61 which would send SQ640 back to the vote of the people for them to modify SQ 640 so that 75 percent support for tax increases is required except for increases to sales and use taxes, which would only require a 60% (3/5) support from the House and Senate. 

Also this week, I finished up my remaining bills that passed off the Senate floor.  These included:  SB1364, which modifies procedures for sale of certain property and SB1365 modifies the maximum amount of certain county retirement contributions. SB1369 is a bill that clarifies language relating to police and fire arbitration. SB1372 extends the billing cycle of the State Medicaid Program and, lastly, SB1488 creates a lifetime landowner license.

            At the State Senate, I can be reached by writing to Senator Chris Kidd, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 411A, Oklahoma City, OK 73105, emailing me at kidd@oksenate.gov, or by calling (405) 521-5563 and speaking to my assistant Suzanne Earnest.

From the Office of Rep. Marcus McEntire March 1 2018

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The 2018 legislative session is in full swing up at the Capitol, and we sure started off with a bang. Lawmakers voted on a revenue proposal, known as Step Up Oklahoma, on Feb. 12. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it failed to gain the necessary votes for passage.

The bill had good parts – everyone agrees some extra cash would help Oklahoma. The revenue would have provided teachers with a well-deserved and long-overdue raise. It would have stabilized rocky funding levels for health care workers across the state. It would have allowed lawmakers to focus on big-picture things instead of trying to hurriedly scrape together a bare-bones budget.

But the Step Up package also carried with it proposals I did not appreciate. In fact, in my dozens of conversations with colleagues, no one I spoke to loved everything the plan offered. Step Up was, in the truest sense, a compromise bill. That said, its failure should not dictate where we go from here.

Instead of letting yet another revenue bill’s failure sow anger and exhaustion, I’m choosing to lean into hope that lawmakers can work across party lines to better our state. Casting my ‘yes’ vote on Feb. 12 meant I was saying ‘yes’ to securing a future of which Oklahomans can be proud. Watching the vote fail means I’m recommitting myself to building coalitions of Oklahomans on issues we care about.

Here’s what I know: Oklahomans want better education. Our teachers are some of the brightest, hardworking people I have ever met. They deserve a raise, and House Republicans will continue to fight until educators are properly compensated. I’ll also lobby for local control. Teachers know how to teach their students best. We should encourage independent classroom control, and we should empower parents to be more involved in local schools.

Oklahomans also prioritize economic development. As our tax base grows, we should seek to diversify our economy. Any investor worth his or her salt would advise clients against putting all their eggs in one basket. To strengthen Oklahoma’s economic future, we must spread out our portfolio.

Thirdly, Oklahomans recognize the need for infrastructure improvement. Our state currently ranks third worst in the nation for structurally deficient bridges. The pattern of tapping into funding for roads and bridges needs to stop. We must properly fund our transportation department so we can prevent serious infrastructure problems before more bridges collapse.

These changes aren’t things that can happen with a flick of the wrist. They will take work. Lawmakers have fought for years on these issues, and I will continue to carry the torch with my colleagues. My hope is that you will join me in this effort. Future generations should be able to look back at this session as the year when Oklahomans said ‘yes’ to building a better state.

As always, you can reach me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.

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