Preserving OHLAP

Preserving OHLAP For The Common Good - June 22, 2014

State Representative David Perryman

General Douglas MacArthur was one of the most colorful military leaders in the history of the United States. Biographical sketches of MacArthur literally portray the definitive US military history of the first half of the 20th Century, particularly as it relates to America’s policies in the Pacific region.

Nicknamed “Dugout Doug” for the underground tunnels on the island of Corregidor in Manila Bay, the General commanded his troops from these bunkers.  MacArthur was loved by his command, but not necessarily by his superiors.

MacArthur was outspoken and direct and did not hesitate to verbalize his thoughts even to the President of the United States.  Perhaps more than any other military commander his life was primarily spent outside the United States.  From the time he was first ordered to the Philippines in 1905, he seldom returned stateside.

When a President needed to talk to the General, the President went to see the General.

In fact, in 1952 when he and his wife returned to Washington it was their first visit to the states since 1937 and their 13 year old son had never before set foot on the soil of the country that he had spent his life defending.

It was in that visit during a nationally televised address to Congress that General Douglas MacArthur delivered his famous line “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

Another quote of Dugout Doug was that “You are remembered for the rules you break.”  If this less famous quote is factual, the recently concluded 54th Oklahoma Legislature has carved a place for itself in posterity.

From unconstitutional logrolling to enacting unenforceable legislation, there is scarce little accomplishment that can be pointed to with pride from a session that was bought and paid for by special interest groups.

This week the Oklahoma Attorney General in response to a direct inquiry by Rep. Scott Inman (D-Del City) determined that the action of the legislature in Section 144 of Senate Bill 2127 was unconstitutional because it violated the single subject rule of the Oklahoma Constitution.

The unlawful action of the legislature dealt with an attempt to remove nearly 8 million dollars from an account that had been set aside to fund “Oklahoma’s Promise.”  Oklahoma’s Promise is technically named the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP).

OHLAP is a scholarship program that was created in 1991 to pay the tuition and fees for financially needy Oklahoma students whose family income is $50,000 or less so long as the students pledge, as they enter high school, to meet academic standards, stay out of trouble and take college prep classes in high school. 

Since its inception, the Oklahoma promise has helped about 19,000 students earn college degrees.  Industry, business and educators, regardless of political bend point to the outstanding success of the program over the past two decades.  The number one issue for industry to locate in Oklahoma is trained and educated citizens.

No other program has matched OHLAP for meeting this goal. However, nothing is safe when the Oklahoma legislature is looking for money to fund an income tax cut in the face of a $188 Million dollar budget hole.

In building next year’s budget, legislative leaders and Governor Mary Fallin reached an agreement scrounging nearly $300 million in one-time revenue from nearly 30 different funds, including cash reserves, agency revolving funds and other state funds.  That is where $7.9 milllion of the OHLAP funding that was legally established by the State Board of Equalization comes in.

The legislature snatched the scholarship money in a move that the Oklahoma Attorney General has now characterized as beyond the power of the legislature since Article X, Section 23 of the Oklahoma Constitution lacks the authority to direct the State Board of Equalization how to calculate the amount to be certified for appropriation.

This illegal and unconstitutional money grab may well jeopardize the entire appropriations bill for the 2015 fiscal session.  An expensive special session was called in 2013 because legislative leaders could not live by the rules.  Does the issuance of this week’s Attorney General Opinion mean that another special session may be necessary? The last time the Supreme Court found logrolling, the entire Bill was determined invalid. Time will tell.

Perhaps the mindset of the Oklahoma legislature is reflected in the tongue in cheek words of playwright Alan Bennett, “We started off trying to set up a small anarchist community, but people wouldn't obey the rules.”

Thank you for allowing me to serve as a State Representative.  If there is anything that I can do to assist you, call me at 405-557-7401 or email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov. I look forward to hearing from you soon.