Saturday, May 24, 2003

Dark Days at the Departments of Tourism and Commerce

Sources at the state Commerce Department report that on Thursday or Friday 20 more employees were informed they would be taking 20% pay cuts. The big question the demoralized employees have is why weren't cuts spread around so only a few don't have to take such huge cuts and others are asking whether the Secretary of Commerce and the group she brought into the Department with her are taking 20% cuts. Morale at the Department is so bad now that employees are searching for any hint of fairness or hope. Long-time employees at both Tourism and Commerce say the atmosphere at the two agencies has never been darker. This is not the kind of working conditions one would hope to have at what remains of the state's economic development agency.

What is not known yet is whether any of the Department of Commerce's $22 million in porkbarrel pass-through monies will also be cut. If the Administration and the Legislature had cut just 5% of the Legislature's pork flowing through Commerce into Legislator's pet projects none of the debilitating cuts would have had to happen at Commerce. If just 10% of the pass-through pork was cut the state's economic development program could actually grow. Why the pass-throughs continue is a question the state media has neglected to ask.

Porkbarrel Projects of Legislators Costing State and Killing Good Programs

The media and the Administration of Brad Henry have also failed to address the question of why there is no oversight of the hundreds of millions of dollars in pass-through money. A case in point is almost $100,000 in pass-through state money that flows from certain Legislators from southern Oklahoma to Rural Enterprises Inc.(REI) of Durant. The money is appropriated to the Department of Agriculture but Ag is required to pass it straight on to REI without strings or questions asked. No one knows how REI uses the money and REI, like most pass-through recipients, are not required to make any report about how the money was spent. Sources in the state media say REI has refused to answer questions or release details of how their pass-through bonanza of state dollars is used. REI is well known in Capitol circles to take Legislators on trips around the country and around the world. The unanswered question is whether any of the unaccounted for pass-through money is used to take the very Legislators that appropriate the pass-throughs on trips - and whether the trips are legitimate economic development trips?

At a time when legitimate government programs, economic growth programs included, are being slashed it is gross maleficence for the Governor, the Legislature, the State Auditor and the media to let the bloated and stinking mass of porkbarrel pass-throughs in state agencies go unaccounted for and hardly touched.

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