State Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, spoke at the Mustang Chamber of Commerce luncheon July 27, describing her last couple of weeks as “interesting, to say the least.”
Osborn was replaced as the appropriations and budget committee chair by Oklahoma Speaker Charles McCall on July 18, just one day after she publicly disagreed with him.
The disagreement was about the Department of Human Services and who was to blame for the $30 million worth of program and service cuts that were announced mid-July.
Jason Sutton, McCall’s press secretary, said the two events were not related.
Osborn released a statement in response to being replaced, stating McCall’s decision was “his to make.”
“I am disheartened by his decision, but I am not deferred in my desire to work for the betterment of our wonderful State,” the statement read. “Oklahomans are calling out for leadership, and I intend to answer their call. Oklahomans across the state have told me they are utterly disgusted at the divisive way we conduct our business at the State Capitol. It is a sad day when we cannot have an honest conversation about the major financial and budget issues we face as a state. I have always been willing to find solutions through conversations instead of conflict.
“Be assured, I will continue to stand up for finding achievable solutions to the myriad of problems in Oklahoma that keep us mired in mediocracy. I am here to serve and serving Oklahomans is what I intend to do.
“To that end, I want to say thank you for the overwhelming support I’ve received from members of the House and the public since this news was released. I’m humbled and uplifted by this sincere support. I also appreciate Speaker McCall allowing me the privilege to chair this committee.”
Vice Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, was appointed to Osborn’s place.
After describing her last couple of weeks, Osborn continued her speech to the Chamber luncheon’s crowd.
“It’s like someone had traded their car in so many times that you wake up one day and you have a ’67 Chevy and you owe $80,000 on it, and no matter what you do, you can’t get out of it,” Osborn said as explaining Oklahoman’s current budget crisis.
She then explained how Oklahoman’s tax burden is 50th in the nation, meaning Oklahomans pay the least taxes, “but we constantly have people come out and say, ‘I’m going to lower your taxes.’”
“But most of us don’t feel like we’re getting the core services that we expect. Unfortunately guys, we have to pay for it. I’m a conservative republican, but I am telling you that we are broke,” Osborn said.
“So how did we get here?”
Osborn gave four reasons that make up the “perfect storm.”
No. 1 is when Osborn came in 2008, Oklahoma was receiving hundreds of millions of dollars for projects where you had to spend all the money in that year or the next. The money left Oklahoma’s government with a false sense of security on how many dollars to appropriate every year, Osborn explained.
No. 2 is right after that, oil shot up to $100 a barrel “so we were just cooking with gas. It was great. Spending money—our agencies were fat, but we were doing too much.”
Oklahoma at the time had 35,000 state employees compared to the current 29,000. The state also had 85 agencies and now are down to 67.
“So we’re really propped up—so what’s the first thing that happens? We decide we’re going to lower gross production tax… and listen, I love the oil and gas industry—I voted for every bill for it for nine years—They are our bread and butter, but we lowered from seven to two and our collections plummeted,” Osborn said.
No. 3 is right after that, Oklahoma legislature decided to cut the taxes one more time.
“Every other time we did, we got a dynamic affect where we got more businesses investing, hiring people, paying better wages, but what we didn’t realize is we finally lowered past the saturation point where you didn’t get an increased return for lowering it that time,” Osborn explained. “The next thing, oil goes form $100 per barrel to $20 per barrel. “In the meantime, we had set that trigger a year out where it’s going to hit.”
No. 4, wind subsidies.
“No one counts those,” she said. “They start ramping up on the backend because for every windmill say you give them ten years of tax credits—we had to pay out $80 million this year. So that comes in on the back end and all of a sudden, we can’t meet our budget needs. What do you do?
“What did we do? We have troopers with 100 mile radiuses. We have half the Department of Corrections employees on food stamps. We’re paying our teachers such a substandard wage that the best and brightest don’t go into education anymore to teach your children—and the good ones all go straight to Texas. We’re blessed with a few wonderful ones that stay—I’m not sure why they do. Thank goodness they do because my gosh, Mustang school systems are fabulous. But you look at these things—mental health dollars, we just lock people up—if you put money in the front end of the mental health program, every dollar spent is $10 saved down the road and 10 lives. Joe Allbaugh came in and took over our prisons—we’re over capacity by 40 to 60 percent on any given day. We don’t do any more substance abuse counseling. We don’t do mental health counseling. We hardly do GED training and we don’t do any job training, so all they’re learning is the next crime.
“So I’m just saying these things—when you hear people say, ‘I’m going to keep cutting your taxes and I’m going to give teachers a pay raise,’ really? Because if we do that, we probably just won’t take care of foster kids next year. So during session, there would be nights I woke up in a cold sweat thinking about if I didn’t give enough money to DHS that some kid in Minco is going to die tonight because mom’s boyfriend is going to beat him to death, and that’s going to be on me because I didn’t give enough dollars to that agency.
“So you hear everybody talking about these big, mean agencies—guys, those are humans. We’ve gotten rid of the fluff. We have two agencies left that are quote on quote philanthropic—OETA and the Arts Council—they get about $5 million, that’s about a 60th of a penny in our budget. So you hear people say that—it’s easy to say it. Get in there and look at the books. I don’t know how to do a lot, but I know how to do books because I ran my own business for 22 years. So when you hear people say these things, question them about really how it is going to work because it’s vexing.
“I hope you all will join with me and vote for the kind of people in this race (Senate 45) and statewide races, that say they want to invest in our state. They believe in our future. They want our children and grandchildren to stay here. We want safe roads and bridges and good schools, well-compensated teachers and we take care of the truly needy—that doesn’t mean you’re a bad republican that means you’re an Oklahoman.”
District 23 Senator Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, used his speech time to share his realization of the state’s true budget crisis and to share the truth about the DHS disagreement.
“When I was a candidate speaking in here a few months ago, I honestly did not believe everything I heard about how bad the state’s condition was in. So let me tell you today—and I’m going to kind of piggy back off of what happened to [Osborn on July 18], the day that I figured out that we were in the state that we were in was dealing with the DHS. I’m a new senator and I’m sitting in a room and that bill gets handed to us to pay $34 million as a supplemental appropriation to a state agency—my first reaction was, ‘what did they do with their money? Why do they need $34 million extra tax dollars to finish the year?’ When I found out the answer to that is when I figured out the trouble we were in,” Paxton said. “The answer to that is the reason they were $34 million short because in order to balance the budget from the previous year, that agency was only funded for 10 months. I don’t know how you actually do that because it’s supposed to be annual appropriations. When I found it out, I thought, ‘we are in big trouble. Today is the day I figured it out.’ Because when people were praised for passing a budget that didn’t have to raise taxes two years ago, it was a gimmick because they didn’t fund an agency for the full 12 months.”
Although Osborn completed her speech without ever mentioning running for labor commissioner, State Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, used some of his speech time to back up Osborn’s beliefs and what she stood for, and make sure the audience was aware she will be running.