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Posts Tagged ‘Mary Fallin’

Is Grover Norquist Helping Your State Go Broke?

Thu ,06/10/2011

Tax Cuts: Though it sounds good to be against taxes, fiscal responsibility may require that taxes be raised, particularly after they have been cut beyond what is prudent. Because of the reduced revenue in Oklahoma caused by the 2004 state tax cuts, it has become very difficult for the state to meet its financial obligations. In spite of that, another tax cut that was set to be triggered when state revenues improved by 4%, will go into effect in 2012. Astoundingly, that tax cut was triggered only because the state revenue had fallen far below the amount needed to fund the state’s needs adequately. Oklahoma is not able to adequately fund K-12 education, higher education, infrastructure, transportation, public health services, public safety, and other services. Oklahoma ranks near the bottom of all the states in poverty, public health, education, crime, and infrastructure repair, yet the legislature has engineered another tax cut . While the tax cuts were touted as a way to lure businesses to the state, it is difficult to see why a business would want to move to a state where its management and employees would have to live in substandard conditions.

Oklahoma Taxes: Although it is easy to cut taxes in Oklahoma, it  is very difficult to raise them. Raising taxes requires either a three fourths majority in both houses of the legislature or approval by a referendum.  It is very difficult to convince voters that they should vote to increase taxes upon themselves. Tax decisions are best decided by the legislatures, who are charged by the Constitution with budgeting adequately for the needs of the state. However, it is unlikely that Oklahoma would ever get a three fourths majority to raise taxes as Oklahoma’s  Governor, Lt. Governor, 7 Senators( of 48), and 26 House members( of 101)  have pledged away their responsibility to raise needed revenue by signing Grover Norquist’s  Americans for Tax Reform Pledge.

Norquist’s   Pledge is not as much about reform as one might expect. The true nature of the anti-tax organization was revealed when Norquist claimed it was a violation of the Pledge to close tax loopholes for companies that outsource American jobs overseas. Apparently, Norquist has set himself up as the sole interpreter of what the Pledge means, and he uses it to intimidate those who have signed the pledge into following his wishes. He first said that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire was not really a tax increase, then reversed his position, claimed he misspoke earlier, then claimed anyone voting to let the cuts expire would be violating the Pledge. He also claimed that Sen. Tom Coburn violated the Pledge when he supported ending the subsidies for ethanol, which have raised food prices and been disadvantageous to Oklahoma farmers. Grover Norquist, who was not elected, and whose name many would not even not recognize, has become a power broker in our national and state governments.

Oklahoma’s Constitution: Still, the responsibility rests with the elected representatives.  In Oklahoma, there is a prohibition against our elected Representatives signing such a pledge. The Oklahoma Constitution, says in Article X, Section 5: under Surrender of Power of Taxation :

“ A. Except as otherwise provided by this section, the power of taxation shall never be surrendered, suspended, or contracted away. “

There are no provisions in the section exempting Oklahoma’s elected representatives from abiding by the restriction stated in “A.”  Clearly, signing the Pledge is a violation of the Oklahoma Constitution, which the legislators have sworn to uphold. 

Your Representatives:  US Senators and Congressmen are important at the state level as they are considered to be leaders in our respective states. Norquist claims 235 US Representatives and 41 US Senators have signed  his Pledge. In doing so, they have clearly given up their responsibility as our elected representatives.   If your state is unable to meet its financial obligations, those at the state level who have taken the anti-tax pledge are listed in this article.  Also, those in the US Legislature who have signed the pledge are listed here. You may wish to check see who from your state has signed the pledge and contact them. Since Norquist claims that signing the pledge is binding into perpetuity, I would suggest that we make sure none of the signers are re-elected.

 

The Oklahoma Lists: Below is a list of those who have signed the pledge in Oklahoma. If anyone is listed who has not signed the pledge or has had their name removed, please notify the author in a comment on this article.

Oklahoma:  

Gov. Mary Fallin

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb

 

7 Senators (of 48)

Cliff Aldridge (S-42)

Josh Brecheen (S-6)

Bill Brown (S-36)

Sean Burrage (S-2)

Kim David (S-18)

David Holt (S-30)

Jonathan Nichols (S-15)

 

26 House members (of 101)

Gus Blackwell (H-61)

Mike Christian (H-93)

 Josh Cockroft (H-27)

David Dank (H-85)

Lee R. Denny (H-33)

David Derby (H-74)

George Faught (H-14)

Corey Holland (H-51)

Charlie Joyner (H-95)

Sally Kern (H-84)

Charles Key (H-90)

Randy McDaniel (H-83)

Jason W. Murphey (H-31)

Charles Ortega (H-52)

Leslie Osborn (H-47)

Mike Reynolds (H-91)

Mike Ritze (H-80)

Dustin Roberts (H-21)

Sean Roberts (H-36)

Mike Sanders (H-59)

Earl Sears (H-11)

Colby Schwartz (H-43)

Randy Terrill (H-53)

Sue Tibbs (H-23)

John Trebilcock (H-98)

Paul Wesselhoft (H-54)

 

Six of Oklahoma’s seven  US Legislators have signed Norquist’s  Pledge. Those are:

Senators: Sen. Tom Coburn* (R), Sen Jim Inhofe (R)

 Representatives: John Sullivan (R), Frank Lucas (R), Tom Cole (R), and James Lankford (R).

* In all fairness, Senator Coburn has worked on a bi-partisan budget solution and recently drew Grover Norquist’s ire by suggesting we might have to raise revenue.

(c) 2011 J.C. Moore

Research credit:  Barbara Moore

Poultry, Arsenic, and the Scenic Illinois River

Mon ,07/03/2011

The quality of the scenic Illinois River in Oklahoma is threatened by pollution from Arkansas’ poultry industry. A lawsuit to stop the pollution seemed certain to win, but it may be derailed by a huge influx of money into the recent Oklahoma elections.

A writer in India, Pabitra Mukhopadhyay, wrote an excellent article (1) explaining how arsenic in some wells in India were poisoning those who drank from them. He asked that I write an article explaining the chemistry of arsenic and how it might get into the groundwater. (2) A comment on that article suggested another possible source that I missed. Roxarsone, which has arsenic as the active ingredient, is often used to treat parasites in poultry and poses a risk to the environment. (3) The arsenic eventually ends up in the chicken droppings and, if disposed of improperly, in water supplies. That is probably not the source of the arsenic in India, but it may have implications for a lawsuit about the water quality of the Illinois River in Oklahoma.

The Illinois River begins in the Ozark Mountains in Northwestern Arkansas and flows through the scenic hills of Northeastern Oklahoma. It is a scenic river because of its sparkling clear water and the steep bluffs, rock formations, and large old trees along its banks. It is a favorite for water sports, fishing, camping, and canoeing and is considered a valuable resource for Northeastern Oklahoma. A dam built across the river forms Tenkiller Lake, one of the clearest and deepest lakes in Oklahoma and the water supply for many Oklahoma towns. Both the river and the lake have beauty and economic value to the state of Oklahoma and great efforts have been taken to ensure that the quality of the water remains high. This has caused contention with the state of Arkansas that has had a profound affect on the politics of Oklahoma.

Lawsuits: As the population of  Northwestern Arkansas has grown, the amount of pollution entering the river has also grown, particularly the nutrients  that causes algae growth and degradation of the river. High levels of nutriets and warm summer temperatures favor the growth of  blue-green algae, a type which is toxic.  In 1977, Oklahoma formed the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission to see that the Rivers in Oklahoma retain their scenic and economic value. The Commission tried negotiating with the cities and businesses in Arkansas to reduce their pollution. Some progress was made but the amount of phosphate and nitrate entering the river continued to grow. Finally, a lawsuit was filed in 1986 to stop upstream sources from polluting the river as it flows into Oklahoma. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In a landmark ruling in Arkansas v. Oklahoma (1992), the Supreme court upheld Oklahoma’s water quality standards and ruled that the water quality standards of the downstream state must be implemented by the upstream state. (4) This established a very important principle as almost everyone lives downstream from someone.

After the 1992 ruling, the Scenic River Commission was successful in negotiating with the point sources, mostly upstream businesses and municipalities, to reduce pollution entering the river. However, the amount of pollution in the river continued to grow, mostly from non-point sources related to agricultural use. Northwestern Arkansas has become one of the largest poultry producing areas in United States. The litter from the industry has been disposed of by spreading it on farmland, and nitrates and phosphates from it eventually finds its way into the water and into Illinois River. Oklahoma has not been able to negotiate with the chicken industry to reduce the amount of plant nutrients entering the river as the poultry industry says that the pollution is from many other sources. Finally, Drew Edmondson, the Attorney General  for the state of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against the poultry industry to settle the matter. It appears that the evidence and the case law is on the side of Oklahoma, but the case seems to hinge upon establishing whether the poultry industry can be cited as a major source of the pollution.

Arsenic: This is where the arsenic enters into the story. If Roxarsone were used by the poultry industry in Arkansas, then surely some of the arsenic would end up in the water along with the plant nutrients. If arsenic were found in the river then that would be a clear indication that the source was the poultry industry. I sent a request to the Oklahoma Department of Water Quality asking if the water had been tested for arsenic. Here is the reply:

“You are correct in that arsenic compounds are sometimes added to chicken feeds, and as such, have the potential to show up in streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater in watersheds where chicken litter has been spread on the land surface.

Unfortunately, the poultry lawsuit that you referred to has not been resolved. It is my understanding that they did sample for arsenic as part of the suit, but that data is not readily available. This data collection was not completed by a state agency, so we don’t really have access to it. However, even if I had the data, I probably wouldn’t be able to share it with you until such a time as the lawsuit has resolved.”

Oklahoma Politics: Drew Edmondson, the Atty. Gen. of Oklahoma who filed the lawsuit, resigned last year to run for governor. He lost in the Democratic primary, partly because the poultry industry contributed heavily to his Democratic opponent and led a campaign to paint him as “anti-business”. The poultry industry then donated generously to the Republican candidates as they considered them to be friendlier toward their interests. The Republican candidates won the races for governor and attorney general.  Scott Pruitt, the new Attorney General, who received $15,000 in donations from the poultry industry, said he planned to review the case. The closing arguments in the poultry lawsuit were made before he took office, but it remains to be seen how actively he will defend the case or if he will find a reason to derail it. The new Governor, Mary Fallin, also plans to review the poultry lawsuit and she has proposed slashing the budget of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and consolidating it with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. These, they say, are just budgetary decisions and have nothing to do with the poultry company donations.  It remains to be seen how avidly they will pursue environmental issues in the state.

(1) http://water.thinkaboutit.eu/think5/post/the_water_of_death/

(2) http://jcmooreonline.com/2011/01/31/arsenic-and-the-water-of-death/

(3) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070409115746.htm

(4) http://www.illinoisriver.org/CEDocuments/Downloads_GetFile.aspx?id=121203&fd=0

(C) 2011 J.C. Moore

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