Your Tax Dollars At Work

Sun December 11, 2005

By Brandon Dutcher

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Oklahoma’s proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that would limit government growth and return excess revenues to the taxpayers.

Regardless of whether this initiative gathers enough signatures and is approved by the voters, it’s worth asking why the idea is so popular. (A statewide survey conducted in November by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates shows Oklahoma voters support the idea by a margin of 74 percent to 17 percent.)

I would suggest the answer is found in something Sen. Tom Coburn said not long ago on the floor of the U.S. Senate: "The American people are absolutely furious at the waste, fraud, abuse and out-of-control spending they see every day, not just here in Washington but in their own state government."

You want specifics? The politicians at 23rd and Lincoln spend $200 of your money every second, so there’s no shortage of examples. Space allows for only a handful:

Taxpayers are picking up the tab (via Medicaid) for the nursing home care of wealthy Oklahomans who are shrewd enough to shelter their assets and income.

The Oklahoman reported this year that, "Top state officials recently spent about $44,000 on a Southeast Asia trip, where they entertained Vietnamese executives and Communist Party leaders with meals and wine."

The state Department of Health paid Planned Parenthood $26,841, in part "to increase correct and consistent use of male condoms and insertion condoms during receptive vaginal and anal intercourse among youth (ages 13-19) and their sexual partners within the Tulsa, Oklahoma MSA."

State politicians in effect use a "credit card" to provide teacher retirement benefits. The retirement system’s unfunded liability mounts (it’s now $7.42 billion), and it costs taxpayers more than $140 million a year to service the debt.

Census Bureau data tell us the Garrett school district in western Oklahoma spent more than $41,000 per student in 2000-01.

The Oklahoma Education Association’s forthcoming "adequacy" lawsuit will be bolstered by a report from an out-of-state consulting firm that, by a remarkable coincidence, was paid $296,710 by — you guessed it — Oklahoma taxpayers.

In 2004, Northeastern State University economist Rex Pjesky compared the size of Oklahoma’s state government to the national average and found that we have about 6,100 too many state employees (and no, not because we have too few local government employees).

Oklahoma taxpayers, via the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, are now paying for vasectomies.

The Oklahoman reported this year that one agency director "charged his agency nearly $18,000 in expenses for 31 business trips in which he participated in rodeo events, according to a state audit."

Last year, the state auditor identified $21 million in waste in the state’s passenger vehicle fleet, including paying for $100 car washes for state employees.

Yes, Oklahomans support reasonable limits on state government growth. Is it any wonder?

Dutcher is vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.