Tuesday, June 22, 2010

David Dank Predicted Last-Minute, Flawed Bills

Last November, Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, wrote a column that today makes him appear prescient.

Dank saw trouble coming six months in advance.

His column, "It's Time To End Last-Minute Madness," noted that "obscure and often costly paragraphs" get slipped into bills at the end of the session. This year's notable example is the measure that created a special job for Senator Debbe Leftwich and prompted the now-underway corruption investigation of her, and Reps. Randy Terrill and Mike Christian.

Here is Dank's column from November 2009:

The Oklahoma Legislature begins its 2010 session in three months. If things go as they have in past years, by late May a few powerful lobbyists will be stalking the Capitol corridors, slipping obscure and often costly paragraphs into legislation that no one will have time to read.

Here are some recent examples of obscure, late-session legislation that became law:

In 2006, last-minute legislation handed millions in additional transferable tax credits to the coal industry after a hastily created political action committee and other promoters gave more than $100,000 in campaign contributions to key legislators. Those tax credits created no jobs or any other discernible economic benefits. Most were sold to and used by companies that had nothing to do with coal.

That same year, rock quarry operators received a special sales tax exemption. No one knew why. Meanwhile, efforts to give tax exemptions that would really help people – like hearing aids for the elderly – go nowhere.

In 2007, legislators dumped an additional $2 million into the ill-fated Burns Flat spaceport. So far there have been no spaceflights, and the project appears defunct.

In 2008, last-minute legislation paid out more than $1 million in a civil settlement involving the head of a state agency. The law requires that legislators be notified of such action, and that it be authorized in a concurrent resolution; Neither was done.

On the final day of the 2009 session, an obscure section no one had time to read imposed a 2.25 percent workers’ compensation premium tax on some 20,000 small businesses in the depths of a recession. You missed it if you blinked; it was on page 114 of a 115-page bill.

It happens every year: Badly flawed measures are rammed through in the closing hours of the session, often concealed in bills no one has time to read. Usually they benefit only a tiny segment of the population. Then, the same powerful lobbyists who pushed for those measures hand out huge campaign contributions to the key leaders who made them possible.

This has happened since statehood. It is neither a Democrat nor a Republican deal. It’s a bad deal for the taxpayers and it needs to be stopped.

Next year’s session will spend a great deal of time confronting a budget crisis that has resulted in furloughs and cutbacks throughout state government. That crisis would be far less painful if past Legislatures had been given the time to read and analyze bills that sometimes gave tens of millions of dollars in special breaks to those who neither needed nor deserved them.

I first sought election to the Legislature to help make state government better for the taxpayers. Others there say the same, but we have failed to address the excessive influence of special interests and the lack of transparency in late-session legislation. Until we do so, the people of Oklahoma should ask their legislators, “Who do you work for . . . me or the lobbyists?”

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