April 28, 2013
The Tulsa World
By Wayne Greene
It was a very good week for Gov. Mary Fallin.
After two years of trying, she got Republican leaders in the state House and Senate to agree on how and when to cut the state personal income taxes.
The top end income tax will go from 5.25 percent to 5 percent in 2015 and will ratchet down another 0.15 percent in 2016, if state tax revenues grow enough to pay for it - which the tax-hackers have always insisted would be the case.
At the same time, she was able to break through on another long-sought goal - a thorough reshaping of the state's workers compensation system that throws out the current courtroom system and replaces it with an administrative one.
While she wasn't able to get the bond issue she's been seeking for months to deal with the state Capitol's crumbling exterior and its troubled sewer lines, she was able to hammer together a multi-year deal for a $120 million, pay-as-you-go plan.
That's three big scores in one week, and the governor should justifiably feel some pride in the accomplishment.
It's worth remembering that Fallin seemed to have a tax-cutting deal in place last year, only to see it fall apart at the last minute. But the situation seems pretty secure on all three proposals at this point, meaning Fallin will likely be hosting some long-awaited signing ceremonies very soon.
The road away from the signing ceremony is less clear.
I'd bet a dollar to a doughnut that the workers compensation plan will be challenged in court. There are too many attorneys whose livelihoods are at stake for it not to happen.
The state constitution seems to guarantee that for every injury, there must be an available courthouse remedy.
"The courts of justice of the state shall be open to every person, and speedy and certain remedy afforded for every wrong and for every injury to person, property, or reputation; and right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, delay, or prejudice," the constitution says.
If determining workers compensation injuries is moved from courts to an administrative system, are the courts of justice still open to injured workers? That's the sort of question the state Supreme Court may have to determine, with the most important element of the proposal hanging in the hazard.
There's also a potential separation of powers issue. Workers comp courts are part of the judicial branch of government; an administrative workers compensation system is part of the executive branch.
The future of the tax cut and the Capitol repair plan also could end up in court.
The constitution says that legislation can deal only with one issue. It's a rule designed to eliminate log-rolling, the political tradition of pasting together unrelated proposals in a single bill until everyone's back gets scratched, or at least enough of them do to constitute a majority.
The Supreme Court has killed laws before because of the single-issue rule, and if you want evidence, go down to the Arkansas River and look at the dams that didn't get built because they were part of a multiple-issue bond bill a few years ago.
A cynic might suggest that the powers that be wouldn't cry too hard if the high court hammered one or more of the proposals. Once a problem is "solved," you can't run for office on the promise to solve it anymore.
On the other hand, if you solve it and the dirty old how-do-you-dos at the Supreme Court unsolve it, you can run twice as hard next time, can't you?
And you can't get blamed for the potential results of your solutions - like state funding for education, roads and public safety drying up as the tax base goes away.
Politics isn't about solving problems. It's about saying you're going to solve them.
But that's all way down the road.
Where we stand today is that the governor had a big week. She promised a tax cut bill, and she's going to get one. She promised a workers comp bill, and that's going to happen, too. She promised a Capitol repair bill, and she's going to deliver exactly that.
We'll see on another day if any of that results in actual tax cutting, workers comp reform or repairs to the Capitol building.