By Michael C. Carnuccio
In the 1950s, famed political scientist David Easton defined politics as the authoritative allocation of values in society. When I lectured at Oklahoma State University, my students preferred “who gets what, when and how.”
The point is, while social issues will always dominate election-year headlines, the legislative process is first and foremost about appropriations.
In Tulsa last fall, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels incorporated yours truly into a discussion about the ethical approach to this responsibility.
“Start with the premise that government should never take a dollar from a free citizen without an essential reason for it,” he said. “When I took Michael’s dollar a minute ago, I made him that much less free. If he still had that dollar, he could decide what to do with it; now, I’ve got it and I’m going to decide. Now, sometimes we have to do that, but we should never do that through the coercion of taxation unless we have a necessary public purpose for it.”
The state of Oklahoma has about 43 types of taxes and is spending more money than it ever has. At $16.64 billion, state spending is at an all-time high, according to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report produced by the Office of State Finance.
Therefore, we have a moral obligation to ask: Has every dollar appropriated and spent by the state of Oklahoma been used in the most efficient, productive way so as to achieve the specific, targeted mission of the taxpayers’ intention?
Mind you, in Oklahoma we pay the chancellor for higher education equal to what the United States pays its commander-in-chief, yet on average Oklahoma’s public four-year colleges graduate only 22 percent of students in four years. State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones recently said Oklahoma doesn’t know how many buildings and vehicles we own. Could the $400,000 we appropriate for losses on golf courses be better utilized for public safety? Also, since when did exhibits at aquariums and rodeos become essential services worthy of state tax dollars?
SoonerPoll found that 87 percent of Oklahomans believe the state wastes taxpayer dollars. So, while free-marketers and Keynesian economists can debate public policy, there is a moral question on the table demanding an answer.
After all, this is people’s money we are talking about, not the state’s.
Michael C. Carnuccio serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affair.