BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Magician Harry Houdini was legendary. He performed hundreds of magic tricks but he was best known for his “escapes.” He used containers and boxes of wood, boxes of glass, boxes of metal and about any other material a person could imagine. Sometimes the containers would be submerged in water.
Sometimes they would be fastened with screws or bolts and sometimes he would be shut inside a riveted iron box. One famous act used a plate glass box secured with chains and padlocks and another “death defying” act involved the spike-lined “Spanish Maiden” box.
While the common theme throughout all of Houdini’s box tricks was the “Art of the Escape,” each individual box contained hidden panels, hidden hinges, removable pins, fake bolts or hidden doors. Houdini was a performer, an actor who controlled his props with precision.
In real life, away from the theatrics of illusion, boxes and containers are designed to provide security and to keep valuables inside beyond the reach of those who might seek to remove or misappropriate the contents.
One such box that Oklahomans have depended on for 32 years is the secure lock box that we call the Rainy Day Fund. Our Rainy Day Fund, or “Constitutional Reserve Fund,” was established by a vote of the people in response to the oil bust of the early 1980’s. The rules regarding the fund are extremely strict and created to be a true “lock-box.” Money can be placed in the fund only by the Legislature when Oklahoma’s revenues create a surplus and may only be removed by the Legislature and then only in limited percentages.
For example, each year, the Legislature is limited to using only three-eighths of the fund to make up for a shortfall in the current year’s collections. The design of the Constitutional Reserve Fund is to securely protect dollars from being raided by random bureaucrats.
For over three decades, the Fund worked properly. In lean times the Legislature would, in compliance with the Constitution, use part of the fund and in times of surplus, the Legislature would, in compliance with the Constitution, replenish the Fund.
Earlier this year however, Preston Doerflinger, Gov. Mary Fallin’s Secretary of Finance, chose to remove 100% of the Constitutional Reserve Fund balance without the permission, consent or knowledge of the state Legislature. While the economic conditions that caused Doerflinger to take the money was a shortfall in this year’s collections, Doerflinger removed $240.7 million of Oklahoma’s financial safety net and that amount was $149.6 million more than even the Legislature could have legally removed for that very same purpose.
Last week, in a classic case of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” Attorney General Mike Hunter, also a political appointee of Gov. Fallin, has waded into the fray to espouse that simply because the state treasurer is the officer who performs the ministerial duty of placing the money into the Rainy Day Fund, that somehow makes the Constitutional Reserve Fund just another treasury fund that the governor’s staff can move around at will.
The attorney general totally ignored the fact that when Oklahoma voters adopted SQ 587 by a 2-1 margin, the Ballot Title clearly said the “measure limits the way that reserve funds can be spent.” Yes, Court decisions trump AG opinions, but why would one Fallin appointee force citizens to spend money to litigate to protect the integrity of our lock-box just to bail out another Fallin appointee.
Houdini’s tricks of deceit and diversion don’t hold a candle to these political antics.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House