While introducing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at an OCPA dinner on April 11, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin correctly dubbed him “a profile in courage.” And in the words of Rep. Paul Ryan (yet another OCPA dinner speaker), “courage is on the ballot” today.
“Tuesday’s recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is one that matters a great deal because it will test whether taxpayers have any hope of controlling the entitlement state and its dominant special interests,” The Wall Street Journal editorialized yesterday. “Specifically, we will learn if a politician can dare to cross government unions and survive.”
If Gov. Walker does survive, one fervently hopes it will embolden state policymakers in Oklahoma. After all, if Gov. Walker can enact bold reforms in a purple state (Wisconsin has voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections; Mr. Obama won there by 14 percentage points), policymakers in one of the reddest states in the country are without excuse.
Some possibilities for Oklahoma policymakers:
- Get government spending under control, and continue to reduce Oklahoma’s personal income tax rate.
- One way to control spending is to right-size the government workforce. According to a 2012 publication of The State Chamber’s research affiliate, Oklahoma’s government bureaucracy is among the nation’s largest. Of the 50 states, Oklahoma ranks 14th in the number of state and local government employees as a percent of the population.
- Of course, these government workers have pensions. And despite the pension reforms of 2011 (which reduced Oklahoma’s unfunded pension liability), some economists estimate that “Oklahoma’s true unfunded pension liability is as high as $47 billion.” There is simply no substitute for moving to a defined-contribution system for new hires.
- Pension reform will be easier to enact once Oklahomans realize just how good government workers have it. OCPA, in partnership with the Manhattan Institute, has released a new data tool which allows Oklahomans “to estimate the pension that you would collect after a career as a general government employee and to see how much money you would need to save on your own (your total annuity cost) to replicate that guaranteed income stream in the private sector.”
Even though the political leaders in one of the country’s most conservative states shouldn’t require an infusion of courage in order to enact conservative reforms, a Walker victory could nonetheless provide one. And if that happens, we all win.