Budget cuts not horsing around (Guest post by Steve Lewis)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Photo by Filip Knežić.
Photo by Filip Knežić.

A recent article by Journal Record columnist Marie Price reported on a meeting of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission.  The OHRC was created when the people voted in pari-mutuel horse racing in 1982.  The story caught my attention because it seems to describe the condition of many state agencies.  OHRC officials were quoted as saying the agency’s funding has been slashed so much over the past several years that it is in danger of becoming unable to perform its mandated functions.  In FY 2008, the OHRC received an appropriation of almost $2.7 million.  The FY 2015 appropriation is about $1.97 million, a cut of over 25 percent. 

In addition the OHRC was among those agencies whose law enforcement personnel were given a 6.25 percent salary increase by the legislature without funding to pay for it, according to its Executive Director.  According to the article, pay hikes were covered by reducing overtime at race tracks, not filling two positions, canceling contracts and other steps.


The Executive Director said that if the situation reaches the point where stewards must be furloughed, races would have to be canceled. Their presence at race meets is required by law.  Commissioners were told that in return for less than $2 million in appropriation, the state receives about $22 million in revenue from horse racing and gaming.  The commissioners resolved to do a better job next year of “selling” their budget needs to the legislature. 


The OHRC is a small, unheralded state agency, unknown and unnoticed by all except a few Oklahomans.  Yet it performs the important task of overseeing an industry that by its nature is fraught with possibilities for corruption, from doping horses to fixing races.  Everyone who participates in the sport, from owners to fans, depends on the integrity of the races, and it’s the job of the OHRC to protect that integrity.  If the commission cannot operate properly, and it becomes apparent to those willing to cheat, you can expect it won’t be long until we have a scandal in Oklahoma.


Personally, I couldn’t care less if I never see another horse race.  But, in a small, specific way, the OHRC exemplifies an important part of what state government does.  It provides the rules, the framework within which we go about living our lives and seeking our fortunes, and hopefully it enforces the rules equally and fairly for everyone.  Even the most conservative among us can appreciate that.  If you let that fall apart, it’s not a good thing. 


How many agencies are coping with the same situation as the OHRC?  How about the District Attorneys, the medical examiner, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Health Department, the multitude of agencies whose employees work anonymously and invisibly to provide a safe and healthy context in which we can prosper.  In the local Tulsa DA’s race, the candidates were debating what to do about the fact the DA’s offices are so underfunded they have to fund themselves through collecting fees, a practice that can improperly affect their decisions.  In another local story, the Tulsa District County Court announced they are going to have to cut back on trials because budget cuts don’t allow enough to pay jurors the small stipend they get for jury service. 


Just sayin’… we have an election coming up.  It’s up to us to ask the right questions.  We have some good folks in office, but they need to hear from us so they’ll know what kind of state we want.  


The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.


The opinions stated in guest articles are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

2 thoughts on “Budget cuts not horsing around (Guest post by Steve Lewis)

  1. Well, thank you Gov Mary. Tulsa Co is cutting back on trials because they don’t have enough $$$ to pay jurors their small daily stipen !!!! Thank you Gov Mary !!!!! Lets just shut down everything !!!!

  2. Don’t be so hard on the governor. She’s doing exactly what a majority of Oklahomans want done with their state: Spend less money on kids’ education; starve public services so job creators can enjoy huge tax breaks; deregulate things like horse gambling and toxic pollution; so what if a jury is a constitutional right? There are plenty of constitutional rights that a majority of Oklahomans despise. They know what America is all about and that dusty old piece of paper keeps getting in their way.

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