BLOG

HB 1775: Preventing Bigotry, Preserving Liberty

Well before Governor Stitt signed it into law last week, Oklahoma’s House Bill 1775 was controversial. The Oklahoma PTA (parent-teacher association) urged the bill’s veto, as did “[d]istrict leaders from Millwood to Mid-Del to Oklahoma City Public schools.” The chair of the OKCPS board, quoted by KOCO News, expressed what appears to be a common opinion of HB 1775, claiming, “[I]t’s just a flagrant attempt to limit conversations about race and accurate history, and mostly because it makes Americans that look like me – white – feel uncomfortable.” That board has unanimously denounced HB 1775. Television news and various articles about HB 1775 emphasize people’s opinions about the new law, but there has been a good deal of spin twisting its actual contents. So, looking at the actual language of the new law, where it comes to public education, HB 1775 prohibits “critical race theory” (CRT) concepts from being taught in public schools. HB 1775 doesn’t prevent discussion of the Tulsa Race Massacre or attempt to sweep the ugly face of racism and bigotry under a rug. It does not prevent teaching about American slavery or its ugly close cousin, Jim Crow. It does not prevent honest...

read more

One Small Step in Economic Distraction, One Giant Leap in the Size of Government

Infrastructure spending to foster economic growth is not a new idea. These programs hearken back to some of the most expansionary periods of government. The American Jobs Plan is multi-faceted, with focuses on traditional infrastructure spending and strengthening the care economy – caregiving for the old and disabled. The Jobs Plan is partnered with the American Families Plan, which is problematic spending intended to build back the middle class. Proponents claim these plans would build the economy back better with copious amounts of government spending. However, neither of these plans is appropriate to achieve stated goals. The extension of the government into almost every part of the American life is a horrible consequence for the false hopes of economic stability.  An improvement to basic infrastructure (roads and bridges) could lead to some economic prosperity; however, any improvement is quickly diminished, given the cost and scope of these infrastructure programs. The improvements to infrastructure found in these programs goes beyond that of roads and bridges, and seeks to create 10 million clean energy jobs. Improvements to infrastructure of this size will be expensive and...

read more

SB 962: Rectifying the Issue of Voter Suppression in School Board Elections

To recieve notifications when we post new content, click here.SB 962, a piece of legislation that would move school board election dates to November from the current obscure spring election dates, has stalled in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Hopefully it will continue moving next session, as it would go a long way toward rectifying the woefully low voter turnout that is the current status quo for school board elections in this state. It’s unclear why the House Rules Committee failed to consider and vote on the bill, as it easily passed through the Senate Rules Committee with a 12-1 vote, and subsequently passed the Senate floor with a vote of 38-9. Why is this bill so important? According to Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, the author of SB 962, school boards have the greatest impact on the people they are supposed to serve, and yet school board elections have extremely low turnout. In addition, the voters in general elections tend to be more reflective of the electorate that the school board serves. Consider the following: in the most recent presidential election, total votes in Payne County numbered about 30,000. However, in the recent school board elections held...

read more

The Reason City Governments Owe Businesses Money Over COVID Lockdown Policies

To recieve notifications when we post new content, click here.1889 Institute doesn’t generally come down on the side of government “owing” money or material goods to anyone. We favor negative rights - those that say government shall not abridge a given freedom - over positive rights, like the “right” to free medical care. So what is different now? How could we possibly say that governments owe someone money? Well, in this instance, state and local governments throughout the country drew first blood. They forced businesses to close, reduce capacity, and require masks for entry. The results were obvious: thousands of businesses closed, many permanently, and millions of workers out of a job.  Remember those negative rights? Some of them are outright bans. The government cannot abridge your freedom to speak, practice your religion, or bear arms under any circumstances. Others are conditional: for instance, government actors cannot take your life or liberty without due process - a criminal or civil trial. A taking falls into the latter class. A government actor, or someone to whom the government lends its condemnation power (like a railroad or utility company), cannot take your...

read more

Chesapeake Arena’s New Name Should Honor the Taxpayers who Pay for It

To recieve notifications when we post new content, click here.With the announcement that the current naming rights to the Chesapeake Energy Arena have been terminated, there’s been significant interest in and speculation about its new name. Setting aside the speculations about who may be likely candidates to purchase the naming rights, perhaps we should recognize the Oklahoma City residents who have and continue to pay for the building. Perhaps naming it “Atlas’ Arena” may be appropriate. It’s a bit tacky and overly sentimental, I know. But the allusion adequately captures the relationship of city taxpayers to the city’s numerous programs, including the arena. Allow me to explain. In Greek mythology, Zeus punished Atlas by literally placing upon him the weight of the heavens. The famous Farnese Atlas depicts Atlas, driven to his knee by the weight of the celestial globe bearing down on him. Similar to the mythological titan, taxpayers shoulder the burden of the arena. In 1993, voters approved a temporary sales tax increase to support a revitalization project known as the Metropolitan Area Projects, or MAPS. Through MAPS, Oklahoma City administrators sought to use $350 million in...

read more

Principles Matter: The Examples of Senate Bills 131, 548, and 608

To recieve notifications when we post new content, click here.No doubt, lawmaking is hard. Multiple mixed messages coming from a variety of directions and generally from people who seem trustworthy make it difficult to separate wheat from chaff. But then, there isn’t one person in any legislature in the land who didn’t actively seek the legislative seat they occupy. The job, ideally, is precisely to choose the wisest course of action when faced with a legislative measure. This task is not easy, but it is made much easier when one chooses to act under a set of principles rather than “shooting from the hip,” so to speak. President Obama once said that he liked to get smart people, experts, with different points of view in a room, listen to all their arguments, and then make up his mind on the right course of action. This implies that his decisions were not based on basic, proven principles, but were based on some sort of divine discernment not possessed by any of the experts in the room who presumably had studied the issue for years. In reality, there is no reason for anyone, regardless of IQ, educational background, or narcissistic tendencies, to think that they alone have the...

read more

Tax Credits for Aerospace Engineers: Robbing the Poor to Give to the Rich

To recieve notifications when we post new content, click here. The Robin Hood legend has evolved over the centuries with thousands of re-tellings. No one knows if the legend is based on a real man leading a gang of outlaws. Some, like one of the characters in the movie, Time Bandits, interpret Robin Hood as nothing more than a brigand using his ill-gotten gains to buy the loyalty of locals. Others interpret the legend as telling the story of a freedom fighter plundering the corrupt Prince John and Sheriff of Nottingham of the proceeds of oppressive taxes in order to give the money back to the plundered. But even if you’re not a leftist looking to redistribute income, and despite some moral ambiguity depending on the circumstances, there is at least a certain amount of logic in robbing from the rich to give to the poor. There seems to be no moral ambiguity, however, when it comes to the idea of robbing the poor to give to the rich. Put simply, that’s just wrong. Right, left, or center, whatever one’s political philosophy, and regardless of one’s religious beliefs, taking by force from poor people to make someone already richer than them even better off is disgusting to...

read more

Oklahoma City’s School Board Chooses Politics over Educational Excellence

To recieve notifications when we post new content, click here. From 2001 to 2010, the population of the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Statistical Area (OKC MSA) grew by 150,000. From 2010 to 2019, the population of the OKC MSA grew by almost exactly the same number of people, 150,000. In other words, there has been a steady increase in the population in and around OKC over the past 20 years. Year-to-year, the data show not even a temporary drop. Nevertheless, the population of Canadian County, part of the OKC MSA, has seen a faster rate of increase in population. To illustrate, the Piedmont school district’s enrollment in October of 2014 was 3,417; by 2019, it was 4,535, a 33% increase. During that same time, however, the OKC school district’s enrollment went from 41,074 to 35,897, a 13% decrease. Population data do not indicate that Oklahoma City’s total population decreased over the 5-year period from 2014 to 2019, but there is no denying the fact of the flight from Oklahoma City’s Public Schools (OKCPS). This drop in student count has been steady since 2014, too. That year OKCPS hit its highest enrollment number in recent decades. The student count has dropped every year since...

read more

Oklahoma’s Legislature Should Protect Federalism While Guarding its Own Power

To recieve notifications when we post new content, click here. Oklahoma’s senate has called for a national federalism task force. The senators wisely recognize the dangers of the federal government’s ever-expanding role in our lives. This move should not be undersold nor under-appreciated. America’s founders wisely divided power between the federal government and the states, knowing that the two would pull against each other and keep each other in check. Legislators in all 50 states should be working to keep that power properly balanced. However, there is another division of power that the legislature often ignores, or even tries to break down: the separation of powers between the various branches of state government. The legislature is supposed to jealously guard their power from the executive and judicial branches. But far too often, it seems as though legislators believe they serve at the pleasure of the other branches, especially the administrative agencies. When bills come up for a committee vote, far too often debate begins and ends with whether the bill has the support of the agency it will affect. This is a badly flawed view of the legislature’s duty. The legislature...

read more

SB 634 Respects Free Speech and Saves Teachers Money

On Thursday, the House Rules Committee approved SB 634, which would prohibit school districts from deducting union dues from teachers’ paychecks unless they obtain a written authorization every year. Another provision of the bill has the state provide free liability insurance to any public-school employee. House Minority Leader Emily Virgin voiced opposition to the bill, stating that it is an attack on public educators and the people and organizations that fight for them. However, according to House Speaker Pro Tem Terry O’Donnell, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, those claims are unfounded. He stated that it is the best pro-teacher bill run in the Oklahoma Legislature in years. So, which is it? Let’s take a look. First, if SB 634 becomes law, teachers who do not wish to continue paying dues to a union will not have to proactively take steps to end dues deductions; they simply won’t sign the re-authorization form. Instead of the burden being on the teacher, this bill shifts the burden to the school district and the unions. Interestingly enough, employers are already required to get re-authorization from employees for other payroll deductions such as health insurance. The bill...

read more

Hollywood, Oklahoma?

Here at the 1889 Institute, we firmly believe in an economic system that rewards individual initiative and eschews government intervention in markets. In addition, it is clear that when government is directly involved in markets, it can only distort them and cause resources to be used inefficiently. As a result, we are developing a directory of Oklahoma subsidies and tax incentives which are just that – government distortions of the market. The subject of the first installment (released today) in the 1889 Institute’s Corporate Welfare Directory is the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate. It has been around since 2001, but was most likely going the way of the dinosaurs until the legislature gave it new life in 2019 (thanks in large part to Governor Stitt’s appreciation for such programs). As explained in “Policymakers Guide to Evaluating Corporate Welfare,” we developed a five-part test which legislators can use to determine if a certain program is, in fact, corporate welfare. The Film Enhancement Rebate fulfills every requirement and is clearly a corporate welfare scheme. In essence, the program allows film production companies to apply for a rebate (more properly, a subsidy) of up...

read more

Open Public Testimony: Doing What It Takes and Putting in the Hours for Informed Public Policy

According to a recent Oklahoman article, when asked about the prospect of having open public testimony in the Oklahoma Legislature, former State Senator A.J. Griffin argued that allowing “ample,” open public testimony in Oklahoma would result in “grandstanding and long debates that would be a significant time and cost burden for Oklahoma’s part-time Legislature.” According to Griffin, allowing open public testimony “would be a real heavy lift.” However, we argue that operating a part-time legislature is not only not an excuse for denying Oklahomans the chance to testify, but is one of the most compelling arguments to allow it. Part-time legislatures across the country value the voice of the people and are willing to take the time necessary to hear them, weigh both sides of an argument, and then act with a fuller understanding of a bill’s implications. Additionally, as we have previously written, legislators are not, and should not expect to be, an expert for every bill on which they vote. Without the time, resources, and staff necessary to cast an informed vote, public testimony can serve as a critical part of the legislative process, educating part-time legislators and giving...

read more

Why Aren’t Taxpayers Getting a Refund? And Other Education-related Questions

Where’s Our School Property Tax Refund? Recently, the Naperville School District board in Naperville, IL, authorized returning $10 million to its taxpayers due to savings from the schools being closed for most of 2020. The question occurs: if a school district in Illinois can afford to return taxpayers’ money due to savings from buildings standing empty for nearly a year, why can’t some of the biggest school districts in Oklahoma do the same? Oklahoma City’s school district opened for in-person attendance for all of one week last November before telling everybody to stay home again. Otherwise, that district’s buildings stood empty for the bulk of the 2020 calendar year and nearly a full year, including the first months of 2021. Similar stories can be told about other districts in the state. Schools across Oklahoma continued to pay teachers even after the schools effectively completely closed March of 2020 at the direction of the state’s board of education, and teachers’ summer break was effectively extended by more than two months. That wasn’t the fault of the teachers, and many teachers have been stressed by constant changes, inadequate training and district unpreparedness to...

read more

Public Nuisance Liability: A $572 Million Jaywalking Ticket?

What happens to a state when businesses don’t have some assurance that their good-faith efforts to comply with laws, regulations, and best practices will protect them from massive civil liability? Well, what would you do? If you thought that merely becoming unpopular could lead to your arrest in a given state, would you go there? That is the situation businesses may soon face when choosing whether to do business in Oklahoma. If I were counseling a business, I would tell them to avoid doing business in Oklahoma right now. All because the state pursued, and a district court granted, a short-sighted cash grab against those unpopular opioid makers. That decision is the subject of 1889’s latest paper. It’s not that the drugmakers were wholly innocent. There was a non-jury trial, which means that the judge, who typically only weighs in on matters of legal doctrine and civil procedure (the rules surrounding how a trial operates — any time a lawyer objects on TV, that’s civil procedure) was also the finder of fact. In this instance, he found that Johnson & Johnson had engaged in false and misleading advertising. That’s not good, but it’s normally a pretty minor offense. Think of it...

read more

Schools Shouldn’t Have to Teach “Adulting,” and Likely Wouldn’t Anyway

It seems that every time I go online, I see another post from one of my friends bemoaning how they didn’t learn anything “useful” in high school. They point to skills such as filing taxes and taking out a loan as more important than the core academic subjects taught in schools. The Oklahoma legislature appears poised to give them their wish. House Bill 2727 would absurdly create “Adulting 101.” Adulting 101 aims to teach students about nutrition, car maintenance, household repairs, interpersonal skills, professional development, basic financial skills, and time and stress management. This bill reminds me of the movie title, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The good of this bill is that it recognizes some of the skills mentioned in the bill, like personal finance, are worthy of being taught in schools. It is also good that the authors see that these skills aren’t currently being effectively taught, when they very well can and should be. The bad is that the bill attempts to formalize the teaching of soft skills, like proper human interaction, that students should be learning organically by interacting with teachers and peers. Thus, the bill adds to the burgeoning mission creep of...

read more

Still Reason to Celebrate the 1889 Land Run

In the latest example of the outrage mob, cancel culture, and the deep-seated need to get offended at everything, the 1889 Land Run has been canceled. You may remember a recent controversy surrounding Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC) and its decision to remove a monument depicting the 1889 Land Run. The irony is that OCCC most likely would not exist were it not for the land run, but I digress. In all honesty, I don’t have any special affinity for the monument. It wasn’t anything particularly special; merely a small slab of concrete with a depiction on it that was more myth than reality. Interim President Thomas was at least partially correct in his statement when he said that the monument was not historically accurate. However, what does draw my ire is the reason for the removal. In the statement, the Vice President of OCCC states that they removed the monument because it “celebrated cruelty and oppression.” Granted, the administration is fully within their rights to remove the monument for any reason, but it is unfortunate that they chose to paint the ‘89ers, and the 1889 Land Run in general, in such a light. In doing so, the administration went so far that they merely...

read more

The Ethical Depravity of Surprise Medical Billing

Is it ethical to perform a service for someone without a good faith estimate of what you’re going to charge them? Would you let a mechanic make major modifications to your car without having the mechanic explain how those changes could negatively impact your driving experience or your car’s reliability? Perhaps — many modifications of this type are purely for enthusiasts, and they probably know all about the risks involved. But can you imagine letting a mechanic start modding your car without a price estimate? Unless your name is Bezos or Croesus, probably not. Asymmetrical information is what happens when one party to a deal has more information than the other. Since money is perfectly fungible — that is, one dollar is worth exactly the same as another — the seller or service provider in any given transaction usually knows exactly what she’s getting. The buyer, on the other hand, is usually receiving a good or service he doesn’t fully understand. Since the seller has access to the goods, or expertise in the services, she may have a duty to disclose certain information to the buyer. This could be anything from a retailer marking an item as a “second” if it has a cosmetic defect,...

read more

1889 Institute Statement Regarding Continued Distancing and Mask Mandates

The 1889 Institute, an Oklahoma think tank, has released the following statement regarding the Governor’s recent announcement lifting state-level Covid-19-related restrictions and mandates and continued local restrictions. Oklahoma has moved into phase three of its vaccination schedule, meaning educators and critical infrastructure personnel are eligible to receive the vaccine. In addition, any- one eligible from one of the first two phases, including first responders, anyone over 65 and any adult who has a comorbidity, can still get the vaccine. The survival rate for people who are not yet eligible for the vaccine and contract SARS-CoV-2 is greater than ninety-nine percent. Governor Stitt withdrew the final remaining statewide restrictions last week. It is time for municipalities to follow suit. Any local restrictions relating to social distancing or mandating personal protection equipment such as masks should be immediately re- pealed. Additionally, all public schools should immediately transition to in-person instruction five days per week. Lockdowns and other restrictions have cost too much, and a recent CDC report shows their benefits were small. The data showed less than a...

read more

Derailing Regional Transit in OKC

A few weeks ago, during a live chat sponsored by the Oklahoman, Mayor Holt was asked about the possibility of establishing regional transit in the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area. After the questioner praised Denver’s regional transit system, the mayor was asked about plans for an interurban rail system. Mayor Holt replied that “planning for regional transit is one of the biggest things happening in our community right now.” A couple of years ago, six cities (Del City, Edmond, Midwest City, Moore, Norman, and Oklahoma City) entered into a trust agreement, forming the Regional Transportation Authority of Central Oklahoma (RTA). While RTA is contemplating other modes of transportation, a commuter train would be the “backbone” of its regional transit system. All cities within the metropolitan area were offered the opportunity to join RTA. Some wisely chose not to participate. By categorizing this initiative as big, Mayor Holt is correct in at least a couple of ways. First, planning a regional transit system, particularly an interurban commuter rail, is a massive undertaking. Second, it comes with an even larger price tag. In the end, the voters will have to decide if this is a...

read more

Accountability is Meaningless to Monopolists – Only the Free Market Can Discipline Public Schools

Occasionally when my wife and I lay out rules for my daughter, she will respond with rules for us. While we are certainly receptive to hearing her perspective, in our house, the parents have a monopoly on rule-making power. Monopolies are great for monopolists. Most people have a boss. Business owners may not have a supervisor, but they answer to customers. But a monopolist? When was the last time you tried to get a straight answer from a cable company, a trash collector, or an electricity provider? I’d imagine it was not a painless experience. They know they have you by the short hairs. Public schools are - near as makes no difference - monopolists. People with the time to homeschool or the resources to pay twice for their kids to be educated once are in short supply, and even among those who could afford it, few are willing. So public schools are the default option for most families. The only way to get a monopolist to stop acting like a monopolist is to introduce meaningful competition to his industry and geographic area. Accountability measures can certainly change behavior to a degree. Early on, when only math and English were tested, teachers of other core subjects began...

read more