The Edmond Sun

Opinion

June 10, 2013

Courageous gentlemen stepping up

GUTHRIE — With the recent news coverage of the government’s inappropriate use of the IRS, citizens have paid special attention to practices within various federal agencies.

Abuse tends to creep in when there is limited transparency. Those who use the government to attack or punish their political enemies typically count on two things about the public and the press: first, that they are not properly equipped with the necessary tools to observe the inner workings of government; and second, they simply don’t care due to personal bias.

The former is understandable. With the drastic size and scope of our ever-expanding government, the ability to oversee it has become tremendously difficult. The latter however, is inexcusable and frightening.

I have become convinced that due to these two factors some abuses never receive public purview. The ones that do receive public recognition are often a result of the courageous efforts by conscientious individuals. These are the people who are ready and willing to put their reputations on the line in order to do the right thing.

When someone dares to question the status-quo, the defenders of the status-quo may resort to intimidation, hoping to silence the questioner. Here are a couple of examples that I have personally observed.

I am a big fan of former State Auditor Steve Burrage. I was pleased when he accepted Governor Mary Fallin’s appointment to the board for the Department of Corrections.

Upon appointment, Burrage wasted little time in questioning the Department’s budget as well as their intended usage of multi-million dollar reserve funds. Burrage was taking his job seriously and bringing transparency to the Department’s fiscal practices. The new transparency undercut the Department’s ability to leverage cash from the Legislature. Until Burrage highlighted the size of the reserve funds, the Department was trying to get $6.4 million in supplemental budget appropriations.

Thanks to Burrage, the Department lost its ability to strong-arm legislators, while simultaneously defending the existence of $22 million of reserve money.

Needless to say, the defenders of the status quo were not particularly thrilled with this new change.

A former board member claimed that Burrage’s action “violates every number of probably a dozen or more standard operating procedures that governs this board.”

This is a great example of using intimidation as a tool to silence transparency proponents. In case you need a translator, the former board member’s statement could be loosely translated as, “Stop asking questions or we’ll keep twisting the story until you’re the one that looks like the bad guy.” When someone dares ask tough questions, they suddenly find themselves accused of various intangible wrongdoings.

Most of this is just a bluff, designed to intimidate and scare. However, as you’ll see in the following example, this sometimes proves to be a pretty expensive bluff for you, the taxpayer.

For many years, a local government entity controlled the Logan County Hospital. The entity was subsidized by $2 million of taxpayer money each year. This subsidy stayed in place even though the county was one of the fastest growing in the state.

Local residents started asking why the hospital failed to achieve profitably and where this money was going. Due to area growth, shouldn’t the subsidy have gone away?

After being appointed to the Hospital board, one of these extremely bold individuals finally had the opportunity to ask these questions firsthand. And, he himself transparent, was willing to talk to the local press about the board’s activities and answer their questions honestly.

This openness was apparently inexcusable to those who controlled the organization. They spent thousands of your taxpayer dollars hiring attorneys in a frivolous attempt to remove the transparency advocate from the board.

Somehow in their delusional state, they believed that high-powered attorneys were above the clear and plain reading of the law, searching for a magical way to expel the member.

They were not successful! Thanks to the bold actions of this board member and others and the willingness of the press to look into the affairs of the board, the government would soon give up the tax subsidy and return the facility to private sector control, where it now plays a vital role in the local economy.

Area taxpayers keep the $2 million each year that would have otherwise unnecessarily gone to the government.

And Oklahoma taxpayers won’t be paying for an unnecessary $6.4 million appropriation to the Department of Corrections because of Auditor Burrage’s courage.

REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at jason.murphey@okhouse.gov, on Facebook at facebook.com/JasonMurphey and Twitter.com/JWMurphey.

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Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

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