Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers
The Associated Press
Oct. 17, 2017
Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:
The Oklahoman, Oct. 16, 2017.
A vote last week by a state agency removed a major hurdle to Oklahoma City one day tapping additional water from southeastern Oklahoma to continue the city's growth. It did nothing to ease the sore feelings of some who live in that corner of the state.
About a dozen southeastern Oklahoma residents attended a meeting where the Oklahoma Water Resources Board voted 6-1 to grant the city a permit for 115,000 acre feet of water per year from the Kiamichi basin. One resident, Dale Jackson of Clayton, declared that "a big wrong has been done here."
"You people are selling us out. ... You're stealing from the poor and giving it to the rich, is what you're doing," Jackson said.
Similar sentiments have been expressed from the beginning of this process, which dates to 2007 when Oklahoma City broached the idea of appropriating water from Sardis Lake, where it has storage rights.
The rivers and lakes in southeastern Oklahoma drive tourism and economic development in the area, and so residents and elected officials zealously, and understandably, guard against any encroachment. That passion is one reason suggestions that the state sell water that spills unused into the Red River have gone nowhere through the years.
Talihina Mayor Don Faulkner said in a previous interview with The Oklahoman's Bill Crum that opponents are concerned about "the lack of good scientific data." Also, they want to "make sure in southeastern Oklahoma we have the opportunity to also grow and develop and become a more viable part of the state of Oklahoma."
Yet this proposal has been vetted and re-vetted, and the city has worked to take into account the concerns of residents in that part of the state.
Indeed, Oklahoma City's plans to take water from Sardis, which is on a tributary of the Kiamichi River, were blocked for about five years by a legal challenge by the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, who said they owned the water rights within their traditional tribal territorial boundaries.
A settlement in August 2016 involving the tribes, the city and the state addressed the tribes' concerns about proper stewardship of the water. That agreement will keep Sardis Lake at a level amenable to the tribes, addresses water flow in the Kiamichi River and includes strong conservation measures.
The settlement required approval from Congress, which was granted in December in a piece of legislation signed by former President Barack Obama.
Then in August, a hearing examiner listened to five days of testimony regarding the plan and determined the city was entitled to the permit under Oklahoma law. She said the Sardis water sought by the city is available for appropriation and that the city plans to put it to "beneficial use," a vital requirement in the process.
Oklahoma City's use of the water won't interfere with the needs of users in the Kiamichi stream system, she found, adding that last year's city-state-tribal settlement includes adequate protections.
City Manager Jim Couch has said it could be 15 years before the city, which for decades has piped in water from two other southeastern reservoirs, would need to begin drawing water from Sardis. That's a long way off, although not long enough for disdain toward the city to subside. On this issue, hard feelings are a given.
The Lawton Constitution, Oct. 15, 2017.
Common education in Oklahoma is in turmoil. Scores released last week are down statewide. To what extent, local districts won't be known until perhaps later this year.
However, preliminary numbers were reported in The Oklahoman on Friday. They indicated that the Oklahoma City school district figures showed that nearly 83 percent of the students scored below proficient on new English and math tests taken last spring.
Goodness. Keeping teachers is a challenge.
Because teachers can make an average of $19,000 more in other states, they are leaving Oklahoma. What is not known is if teachers — who will lose their taxpayer-provided health care premiums worth about $5,000 a year — will actually have a higher standard of living in, say, Texas.
Perhaps if they go to a metro Dallas or Fort Worth or Austin or other large city where the cost of living, property taxes, fuel, housing and food costs are higher, and there is heavy traffic and longer commutes, they may not be better off. If there are openings and they go to a Vernon- or Jacksboro-, or Wichita Falls- or Marble Falls-sized community, they may be ahead. That is the big unknown.
Of course, Uncle Sam will get his piece of the big raise and Texas — with no income tax — will get more real estate taxes to operate and pay debt for the state, city, county and schools, too.
Oklahoma, which has an income tax, levies no real estate taxes to operate state or city governments. Property taxes are collected to operate counties and schools and may be collected to retire taxpayer-approved debt for all government entities.
The teacher drain is real, unfortunately. No one begrudges a colleague trying to get ahead financially. Lawton is said to have had to hire 130 new teachers because of retirements and flight. Only 20 were certified.
The Legislature, which is grappling with a $215 million budget gap, has its hands full. It should look at administrative costs.
Enid News & Eagle, Oct. 14, 2017.
A proposed rule that would change how soon state elected officials and employees become lobbyists or consultants is coming under fire.
Oklahoma Ethics Commission has come up with the proposal to prohibit Oklahoma elected officials and employees from serving as a lobbyist or consultant for two years after they leave any state post.
Understandably, the proposal has come under criticism from lawmakers, legislative staff and staff and lawmakers. Their main argument is the proposed rule would affect their ability to find a job once they leave government employee or office.
The argument for the possible rule was spelled out by John Hawkins, acting chair of Oklahoma Ethics Commission: "The common sense crux of this thing is you don't want anyone that's serving as a current state officer or employee to have to make a decision as to where their loyalties lie. Those loyalties should always lie with the citizens of the state of Oklahoma, and that's the purpose of what we're trying to do today. We're not trying to cause issue with the way that anyone does their job."
Since Oklahoma instituted term limits for elected officials, some people argue lobbyists have gained more power in influencing public policy and laws. Their argument is lawmakers serve so little time in the Legislature they build up relationships with industries that hire lobbyists, and then they leave their Capitol job and jump right into lobbying.
The proposed ethics rule would stop that process for two years. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 30 states nationwide have a cooling-off period — with eight of them having two-year periods. So, what Oklahoma Ethics Commission is proposing is not without precedent.
One opponent of the proposed rule, A.J. Ferate, who is not a lobbyist but attended a recent meeting on behalf of Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and Oklahoma Republican Party, said Ohio tried to pass a similar rule to what Oklahoma Ethics Commission is considering, but it was ruled unconstitutional.
Oklahoma Ethics Commission officials said they plan to hold additional hearings in the coming weeks before making a final decision. We're good with that.
We're not ready to come down on one side or the other, but we think this issue deserves discussion.