Oklahomans are shocked and disappointed as press accounts describe massive pay raises being rapidly handed out to state agency executives. In some cases those raises have amounted to more than $40,000 per year.
What follows are the behind-the-scenes details of this maddening saga that you may not have read about in the papers.
The raises didn’t just suddenly occur overnight. They have been long in the making as agency officials and taxpayer-funded lobbyists have convinced legislators to change the laws to make the outlandish pay raises possible. As early as two years ago these individuals were hard at work figuring out how to get the raises.
Regular readers may recall my article from a year ago (hd31.org/331) within which I wrote about the passage but subsequent veto of the House Bill 3152, the first iteration of the pay raise bill. I described a lawmaker who slow played the vote then feigned disappointment at missing the vote while an agency director who was in the gallery signaled her appreciation for his cowardice. I also spoke of the courage of the governor who vetoed the pay raise bill even though only four of us out of the 149 legislators voted against the proposal.
Agency officials and their lobbyists were extremely disappointed and upset at the governor’s veto. They weren’t about to stop trying. They came back this year and presented a second pay raise proposal. They defined the proposal as a moderate, common-sense and reasonable compromise designed to meet the concerns of fiscal conservatives. I think a lot of legislators believed them. Although, 10 of us voted no this time.
If it is any comfort to the taxpayer, he should know that most if not all legislators never intended this horrible abuse.
I think all, including the authors, believed the information served to them by bureaucrats and lobbyists. They thought they were supporting a common sense compromise that wasn’t as egregious as the bill from last year.
They were wrong! We now know this resulted in the looting of the treasury. A review of the transparency data at data.ok.gov likely will reveal that numerous agency heads received raises and the full extent of the abuse has yet to be realized by the press.
Over past years, as fiscal conservatives have come into power in Oklahoma government, lobbyists and bureaucrats have become experts at presenting big government spending policies like this one through a filter that makes them appear to be conservative policies. They painstakingly lull legislators into a weird alternate reality in which terrible policy appears to be good policy.
In this case they hoodwinked lawmakers into removing the salary caps on agency executives. In the weird reality that is the Capitol during legislative session, a very bad vote seemed like a reasonable vote.
Fortunately, due to public outrage, I can only hope this serves as a much needed wake up call that opens the eyes of the deceived legislators.
Multiple bills will be filed within just a few weeks that would reverse the pay raise policy. Numerous legislators voted for the pay raise bill without realizing what it did. They will eagerly earn their redemption by voting for the reversal.
In the meantime, agency directors should and must return the large pay raises.
Finally, it is far past time for the Legislature to put a stop to the incredibly inappropriate practice by which state agencies are spending taxpayer dollars hiring contract lobbyists.
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 email@example.com.