The modern American attention span is frighteningly short, but surely you haven't already forgotten the folderol in Washington earlier this month that shuttered the U.S. government and nearly drove us over the fiscal cliff.
To refresh: For two weeks-plus, the Tea Party's self-styled "statesmen" collectively stomped their feet and wailed like toddlers who'd seized control of the day care. Eventually, of course, adults regained the upper hand, and the tantrum was quelled with scarcely a whimper.
Unfortunately, the political hijinks cost the taxpayers a tidy $24 billion ... at the same time (irony of ironies) that brows are furrowed across the land over the federal deficit.
The point, however, is not to rehash an unpleasant moment in American politics or to mock the dipsticks (tempting though it might be) that manufactured a crisis when the world already is full of real ones.
Rather, it's to note (sadly) that Congress is hardly alone when it comes to legislative bodies manufacturing crises. Indeed, your Oklahoma Legislature is highly skilled when it comes to offering solutions in search of problems.
Oklahoma has 149 lawmakers -- 101 state representatives and 48 senators -- many of whom attempt to prove their worth to the voters by morphing into bill writin' machines.
Actually, they're not bill writers themselves -- at least not most of them. They're mules (some could accurately be described as jackasses), claiming authorship of legislation that actually was written by someone else -- typically special interests that want to tilt the system (be it free enterprise, legal or whatever) in their favor.
For the 2013 regular session, our august lawmakers proposed more than 2,400 bills and resolutions. More than 400 bills actually survived the legislative meat grinder and were signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin.
Did that many things in Oklahoma law need fixin'? In one year? Of course not.
Oklahoma has become a laboratory for rightwing ideology of all sorts -- corporatist, religious and flat-out wingnut. And that's where you'll find solutions in search of problems.
The biggest canard is that Oklahoma cannot compete economically with Texas (and other neighboring states) without eliminating the state's largest single revenue source, the income tax.
Here's the GOP argument: Big Bidness demands tax cuts. It won't give Oklahoma a sniff when it can relocate to income tax-less Texas. Besides, tax cuts won't harm the state treasury -- they'll help it. Taxes go down, state revenue goes up. Magic!
Of course, they're counting on the fact you won't remember that trickle-down, Supply-Side economics was such a spectacular failure in the Reagan years that Bush I -- former President George H.W. -- dubbed it "voodoo economics."
Or that you won't know that the income tax is the fairest tax of all -- based on one's ability to pay.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma Republicans never met a tax cut they didn't like. So when their wealthy corporate masters blow the dog whistle, state GOP leaders dutifully fetch the smoking jacket, slippers and another tax cut -- starving vital services like education, prisons and mental health services in the process.
Did you see the latest state revenue estimates? Tax receipts down $113.8 million in the first three months of the fiscal year.
If you believe all the hype about Oklahoma's blowing-and-going state economy, then the only explanation for the decline is tax cuts -- nearly $1 billion in recent years and more on the way.
What hath the tax cuts wrought? In the less than a decade since Republicans seized complete control of the statehouse, education funding has been slashed more than $200 million -- the deepest cuts in the nation.
Now, lawmakers and some top state officials want to extend the rightwing laboratory to the state's seven public pension systems, ostensibly because of an $11.6 billion unfunded liability (as of June 30, 2012).
It appears the Powers-That-Be want to shift from traditional defined-benefit plans to 401(k) defined-contribution systems, at least for new employees.
That almost certainly would save the state money, but it also likely would result in reduced benefits for future workers and may negatively affect those who remain in the old system (because newer employees wouldn't be paying into it).
A problem in need of a solution? Not exactly. This is more accurately described as a solution in search of a problem. A classic "manufactured" crisis.
The Capitol's GOP majority bleats endlessly about the $11.6 billion unfunded liability, yet conveniently ignores the fact that strong reforms enacted by state lawmakers over the last decade have significantly strengthened the current defined-benefit systems.
An Oklahoma Policy Institute analysis shows the seven systems' unfunded liabilities plunged from $16.1 billion in 2010 to $11.6 billion in 2012 - and the funded ratio jumped from 56 percent to 65 percent.
Particularly revealing: How much funded ratios have improved for three of the pension systems since lawmakers began enacting the series of reforms.
Between 2005 and 2012, the teachers' system climbed from 49.5 percent to 54.8 percent funded, and the public employees from 72 percent to 80.2 percent funded. Moreover, the firefighters' unfunded liability declined from $1.5 billion in 2010 to $1.1 billion in 2012.
As OKPolicy Director David Blatt put it in a recent blog post, "It should now be time to officially declare the 'Crisis in the Oklahoma State Pension Systems' to be over.
"The reforms enacted in recent years have substantially increased funding to the state's pension systems, while preventing future imbalances caused by approval of unfunded benefits," he wrote.
Despite the recent progress, GOP leaders are hell-bent on obliterating the old system. The question is, why? There are two obvious answers.
First, Republicans hate unions ... because their leading financial supporters - big business - hate unions. There is a long history of organized labor supporting Democrats and an equally lon g history of Republicans doing everything possible to neuter organized labor.
The most powerful unions left in Oklahoma today are the public employee unions. Is it a coincidence that state employees haven't had a raise in seven years? Or that lawmakers don't want state workers to be able to pay their union dues through payroll deduction? Hardly.
Changing from a defined-benefit to a defined-contribution pension system is another effort to belittle and defang public workers.
Second, want to guess who would benefit financially from a switch to a 401(k) system? It's the corporatists and brokers.
They would be rewarded for their loyal support of GOP candidates and causes with thousands of new investors and management fees, respectively.
A real sweetheart deal, eh?
Most voters surely know there are real crises that must be addressed. How much longer will they allow our elected elite to manufacture bogus crises for political gain?
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