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An unheralded success of the Oklahoma Senate Republicans majorities has been the turnaround in state pensions. I’ve written in this series of columns about Senate Republicans’ achievements in education reform, criminal justice reform, lawsuit reform and workers’ comp reforms. Similarly, Republicans’ pension reforms have done a lot to keep the retirement promises made to teachers, police officers, firefighters, and state workers.
In years past under Democratic control at the state Capitol, retirement funds were treated as slush funds to pay for new programs and spending. What the funds got in return were empty promises in the form of “IOUs.” Nowhere was this more prevalent than in the Teachers Retirement System (TRS). The terrible mismanagement also extended to cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), which were handed out but not paid for.
By 2010, thanks to this poor management by Democratic leaders and the effects of the Great Recession, the TRS had an unfunded liability of more than $16 billion. Compared to other states, we ranked close to the bottom in terms of the financial stability of our pension systems.
Republicans in the Senate took bold and significant steps to end the raids on pension systems. We worked to make sure COLAs were fully funded. We consolidated the financial management of pension funds, cutting management fees and costs so the savings could be reallocated to shoring up the system.
Democratic control of the Capitol also created a pension system that allowed career politicians and bureaucrats to make more money in retirement than they ever did during their time in service. Republicans moved to end this grossly unfair practice.
Our reforms, along with strong performance from a rebounding national economy, have cut the state’s pension liabilities in half. Our pension funds thanks to our reforms are on more solid and stable financial footing. Senate Republicans’ efforts have secured the retirement futures of teachers, police officers, firefighters and state workers.
Tax reform has been forefront of the Senate Republicans’ agenda since we assumed the majority 10 years ago. In addition to keeping rates as low as possible, we’ve fought to inject more transparency and accountability into the tax code.
The tax code in Oklahoma was riddled with handouts and giveaways in the form of all kinds of tax exemptions and incentives. Senate Republicans led the charge to create the Incentive Evaluation Commission, which provides the Legislature with independent data on which tax incentives are working and which aren’t so that we can ensure our tax code is fair and not an obstacle to savings, investment and economic growth.
Senate Republicans also have worked to modernize our tax code. We live in a world of online shopping and Republicans have worked to update the tax code to balance the advantage online retailers had over brick-and-mortar stores. We’ve also beefed up oversight and enforcement to ensure out-of-state entities are fully complying with our state laws and paying all of the taxes they owe to the state.
In just 10 years, Senate Republicans have made huge strides in putting our state on the path to growth and success. Our state is better off now than it was 10 years ago, that much I am sure of. There is more work to be done and I know Senate Republicans will keep their focus on serving Oklahomans and making our state a better place to live, to work and to raise a family.