Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:
Tulsa World, Jan. 12, 2016
Friends and family appraisal system still in place at Tulsa County Sheriff's Office
Stanley Glanz is gone from the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, but his friends-and-family plan is still paying off for a handful.
Glanz legally took advantage of ill-written state law that allows a sheriff to appoint anyone he likes to be an appraiser on foreclosed property.
It's a lucrative position, especially in a property-rich county. Eight months ago, Tulsa World reporter Jarrel Wade showed that political donors, distant relatives and others close to Glanz had earned up to $51,000 per year for the equivalent of one day of work per week.
Glanz admitted it was a patronage system.
After a grand jury returned two misdemeanor indictments and an accusation for removal from office that included allegations of habitual or willful neglect of duty, gross partiality in office, oppression in office, corruption in office and willful maladministration, Glanz left the sheriff's office. But his patronage lives on.
Acting Sheriff Rick Weigel has not replaced any of the Glanz appointees and says he doesn't plan to.
Weigel says he thinks that's the job of the next sheriff.
We disagree strongly.
The next sheriff will have the opportunity to appoint his own appraisers, but Weigel should take the opportunity now to demonstrate how to do it correctly: Making choices on the basis of merit not connection.
Done right, the next sheriff has one less task to perform, and Weigel can leave the sheriff's office with credit for cleaning up a patronage embarrassment.
The ultimate solution is the job of the Legislature, which needs to reform the sheriff's appraisal system statewide and permanently, but that doesn't mean Tulsa County has to continue under the patronage of the Glanz regime.
Since he became the acting sheriff in September, Rick Weigel has done a pretty good job of restoring calm and honor to the office as far as we've been able to see, but he can't view his position as simply that of a caretaker. He might not be the elected sheriff of Tulsa County, but he has the authority to fix what's wrong in the sheriff's office, and there's no reason to wait on this one.
The Oklahoman, Jan. 8, 2016
Tax cut not to blame for Oklahoma credit downgrade
Moody's Investors Service has downgraded Oklahoma's outlook to "credit negative." While some on the political left have tried to blame state government's fiscal challenges on reductions in Oklahoma's income tax rate, Moody's makes clear that the biggest challenge is the downturn in the energy industry.
That's an obvious conclusion, but it bears repeating anyway given the politicized arguments issuing from some quarters.
Moody's credit outlook puts the issue plainly: "The negative outlook reflects the fiscal effect of an 18-month decline in the energy sector and the prospects for a prolonged, muted recovery in prices and production."
The credit rating agency noted Oklahoma state revenues "have significantly underperformed what was budgeted for fiscal 2016 and are expected to remain weak in fiscal 2017."
"Contraction in the energy sector has led to labor market weakness in that sector as well as in the manufacturing sector," the outlook states.
In short, a major decline in oil and gas prices has a significant impact in a state where the energy industry is a major economic player.
Yet to hear some critics, you'd think the $901 million shortfall facing legislators this year is all the result of tax policy. Rep. Scott Inman of Del City, who leads the House Democratic caucus, typified such thinking in a recent Facebook post. Noting that Oklahoma's income tax rate dropped from 5.25 percent to 5 percent on Jan. 1, Inman argued that the income tax cut only "reduced the amount of revenue growth that could have come into the general fund" to spend on things like education, health care and public safety.
He dismissed as "laughable" the idea that allowing Oklahomans to keep more of their own money could contribute to economic activity and growth.
We'll grant that the timing of this income tax cut isn't ideal. Previous tax cuts came from surplus collections during economic booms.
But for too many on the political left, tax increases are the only answer to a downturn. They simply can't imagine that it might be good for government to ever streamline or pare any activity.
Yet as Moody's makes clear, the state's budget problems are almost entirely driven by declining energy prices. The state would face a major shortfall even if no tax cut occurred.
The quarter-point reduction in Oklahoma's income tax will reduce government revenue by $147 million in the coming budget year, according to static analysis. Even if that tax cut were rolled back, the state would still face an enormous shortfall.
When you combine the revenue decline and the loss of one-time funds used in the budget approved by the Legislature in 2015, lawmakers need another $1.1 billion to avoid any spending cuts this year.
Notably, no one's calling for income tax increases sufficient to generate that amount, probably because anyone who did would be run out of town on a rail. That silence indicates even the most partisan tax cut critics realize most Oklahomans would still rather see government spending reduced than have their take-home pay diminished by tax increases.
Tough budget choices lie ahead, and lawmakers need to work together to address this challenge, not engage in cheap political theater. Pretending that Oklahoma's budget woes are driven by a small tax cut, despite objective evidence to the contrary, serves no purpose and benefits no one.
Muskogee Phoenix, Jan. 8, 2016
Armed 'protest' not peaceful
An anti-government group occupying a national wildlife refuge are neither protesters nor peaceful.
The group is occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.
They are "protesting" the prison sentence of local ranchers for burning federal land.
Their mantra appears to be that all federal land belongs to the people and therefore the ranchers convicted of arson did no wrong.
Federal land does belong to the people — all of the people. And therefore, federal land must be administrated by the government to ensure all people have access to it, not just adjacent landowners.
The local ranchers committed a crime against every taxpayer and were justifiably convicted.
The armed occupants of the refuge certainly have the right to protest the conviction and sentence.
But the "protesters" have a lot to learn about peaceful protests.
Peaceful ended when they armed themselves.
Ammon Bundy, a leader of the group, said the group has "no intentions of using force upon anyone."
But he also said they that if "force is used against us, we would defend ourselves."
If you are not willing to leave or be arrested peacefully, then at some point, force will be used against you.
Armed people occupying federal property is an insurrection — not a peaceful protest.
This group could learn a lot from college students in the 1960s and 70s. They protested, without weapons, and peacefully allowed themselves to be arrested.
They made their point without pointing a gun.