Tahlequah Daily Press


March 28, 2014

Tribal compacts should mean state has money to perform its functions

TAHLEQUAH — Oklahoma should be rolling in the dough. The statistics bear that out. Thirty-three American Indian tribes operate 117 casinos in this state. Thanks to “compacts,” these tribes have been sharing the wealth with the state of Oklahoma. And thanks to the casinos, that wealth is substantial.

As sovereign nations, the tribes did not have to make compacts. But they wanted to be “good neighbors,” because they understood what’s good for tribes is good for the state. Tribes enter into compacts for other reasons, too. Without tobacco compacts, smoke shops could only sell products to other Indians. Another compact allows tribes to sell car tags at a reduced rate to their citizens. Under the Cherokee Nation deal, 38 percent of revenues go to about 90 school districts within the 14-county jurisdiction. That money helps all students, not just tribal members. Another 20 percent of the car tag money goes to roads and bridges.

These days, the tribes are doing their fair share to keep the state afloat. It may surprise some Oklahomans to learn these tribal casinos have been remitting a whopping $121 to $124 million to the state for the past few years. Some of the tribes are starting to wonder where all that money is going, and we have the same question.

Budgets of public and higher education have been decimated over the past few years, and teachers can’t get raises. Roads and bridges are crumbling. According to original agreements when the turnpike authority was formed, many toll roads ought to be free by now, yet we’re still coughing up cash for passage. And despite the support of some chiefs – including Cherokee Nation’s Bill John Baker – for a revitalized passenger train system, the state wants to sell off its rails.

It’s clear the “compact money” isn’t being used for its intended purposes. So where is it going? We have a sneaking suspicion that it’s finding its way into the pockets of a select few.

Recently we reported a sleazy deal to give back-door raises to elected officials will net the governor a $17,000-per-year bump next year. Is there anyone out there who thinks any governor, whatever political party, deserves that kind of windfall? Because our Legislature works only four months out of the year, it’s one of the highest-paid in the country when per diem is factored in. We can only think of a handful who have earned our tax dollars, and most serve this area of the state.

Folks, we’re being hoodwinked – and by people who aren’t particularly intelligent on the whole – and it’s getting worse, not better. Several years ago, Republicans assured us that once they were in charge, they would smooth over the problems brought about by the then-corrupt Democrat regime. But as we’ve seen, waste and graft have no political boundaries.

Oklahomans need to ask some hard questions about where all our tax dollars are going. Barring suitable answers, when it comes to top state-level jobs, we need to vote against the incumbents. If they’re gone, so too will be the cronies whom they’ve placed in overpaid positions.

There should be plenty of money to go around for the few functions the state government should really be doing, and doing well. That’s not the case. Someone needs to be held accountable.

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