Oklahoma taxpayers might be able to breathe a little bit easier this year thanks to two important pieces of legislation making their way through the state capitol. A proposed amendment to the state’s constitution would enjoin any Oklahoma municipality not “to become indebted or contractually obligated, in any manner, or for any purpose” without the express approval of the municipality’s governing body, the municipal officer charged with budgetary oversight by the governing body, or a majority of the municipality’s citizens. The amendment’s sponsor, Senator David Holt (R-Oklahoma City), has dubbed it the “Lincoln Amendment” because it “enshrines in our state’s Constitution a basic premise of American democracy -- that our government is by the people and for the people, just as Lincoln said at Gettysburg.” From Senator Holt’s office:
Recently, Oklahoma was ranked the most anti-taxpayer state in the entire southern United States by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This was primarily because in Oklahoma, the wishes of local taxpayers and their elected representatives are routinely trumped when it comes to spending tax dollars, causing local governments to take on expenses they cannot afford, resulting in service cuts or requests for more taxes. The Lincoln Amendment is a response that shifts the power of the purse back where it belongs, to the taxpayers.The state Senate is also considering the Oklahoma Paycheck Protection Act, which would amend the state code so that the state’s Office of Personnel Management can only direct payroll deductions to an organization if “the primary or core function of the organization is nonpolitical and nonpartisan.” The bill would also prohibit Oklahoma school districts from directing payroll deductions to teachers’ unions, and would prevent Oklahoma municipalities from writing union payroll deductions into employment contracts. Oklahoma badly needs this measure to prevent unions from using money taken directly from teachers, firefighters, police officers and municipal employees for political causes. Making it illegal for Oklahoma’s OPM to send money directly to a union would absolutely ensure a public employee’s right to free association by protecting their right to stay out of union politics. These critical measures are desperately needed to set Oklahoma’s fiscal house in order. According to George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, “several states including Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Indiana, Louisiana and West Virginia are slated to run out of assets to fund pension benefits by the end of the decade.” [Emphasis added.] This problem is exacerbated when municipalities have the authority to ink plush pension deals with employees despite their limited taxation authority. According to that same Mercatus study, in Rhode Island “unfunded municipal pension liabilities currently exceed municipal revenues by $2.6 billion” and the town of Central Falls, Rhode Island, is currently in receivership. Taken together, these bills will fundamentally redefine the relationship between the State of Oklahoma its employees. Employment contracts will be subject to more oversight and public employee unions will no longer be able to use Oklahoma’s Office of Personnel Management to raise money. Oklahoma lawmakers are prepared to endow taxpayers with real protection against immoderate public employee compensation and to curb the influence of public employee unions by forcing them to justify their activism to their members instead of siphoning taxpayer funds to fuel their political ambitions. Hopefully other states lurching toward insolvency will follow Oklahoma’s example, Sooner rather than later.