In this episode of Capitol Insider, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat speaks with Dick Pryor about key issues in the 2019 legislative session, including Medicaid expansion and his proposal to increase government transparency.
This is the second of a two part interview.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor. Our guest is Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, Republican from Oklahoma City. Good to have you with us.
Greg Treat: Thank you for having me.
Pryor: One of the issues that people will be watching the legislature for this year is the approach toward Medicaid expansion. Where do you fall on that issue?
Treat: Well I'm open to discussions. You know, they say it's a nine to one match. That's accurate right now. So if we put in a $100 million we'll get a $900 million match. That sounds extremely attractive on the surface. First off, where do you come up with the 100 million? That's that's a real question. And then, secondly, how do we prepare if that match rate goes down in the future?
It's not a far-fetched idea that it could go down. We had a waiver on our graduate medical education institutions of OU and OSU that had expired. The legislature had not been made aware of that. And now we're having to pick up the tab north of $60 million annually. And then the CHIP, the Child Health Insurance Program. We're trying to come up with $14.8 million dollars to come up with a...The federal side has decided to lower their match. So when you're talking the magnitude of a billion dollars, nine hundred coming from the federal government and one hundred million coming from the state. That is a much larger hole the climb out of if the percentage even changes a percent or two. There is access to care issue, especially exacerbated in rural areas and in some higher poverty areas, and we're very cognisant of that, and we're trying to find solutions to it.
Pryor: You are in a position of leadership. How would you like to change the way the government in Oklahoma operates?
Treat: I think as far as reforming Oklahoma's government we have way too many boards and commissions running state government. We've got to empower the governor, and I'm not referring to Governor Stitt. I'm talking about the position of governor. I would have been pushing just as hard if Drew Edmondson would have been elected governor to give the governor more control over the state agencies, boards and commissions. The separation of powers is an extremely fundamental American principle that we have to uphold, but when you divide the executive against itself, it creates a very inefficient, ineffective type of state government that I think we can do much better with.
Pryor: If you give the governor more power does that not undermine that checks and balance system that is important to many members of the legislature?
Treat: No. Because right now the boards and commissions, the governor appoints the board and commission already. This would just allow the governor to appoint the actual director. We would have the check of Senate confirmation to make sure it's not a political patronage, that the person is qualified to do the position. I don't see this as an erosion of power at all, in fact, who do you hold accountable? When kids died in DHS custody, when I first got here we were under the federal lawsuit, do you hold the governor accountable that's the chief executive? Do you hold the DHS director accountable? Or do you, at that point, did you hold a nine member board that no one knew their names, no one knew their faces? They served seven year terms. They outlasted a governor. You've got to have someone to hold accountable, and I want the governor of the state of Oklahoma to be held accountable for executive progress or executive malfeasance.
Pryor: You're the author of Senate Bill 1, the Legislative Office of Financial Transparency measure. How would the work of this office be any different from what the state auditor does or what legislative staff does?
Treat: So, in many state capitols around the country the auditor falls under the legislative branch. That's not the way the founders of Oklahoma state government created it. So it waxes and wanes, the cooperation between the state auditor and inspector and the legislature. But, for the legislature to be dependent on an executive branch elected official to give us information really puts at a disadvantage to be able to craft a budget knowing all the numbers. We have staff in the Senate on the third floor that is our fiscal staff. The House has theirs on the first floor. They help us draft the budget, but it's a minimal number of people on both sides. And it wouldn't be true to say that they're wholly dependent on agencies, but they are largely get their information from the very agencies that we're trying to hold accountable. We need an entity of the legislature that can go year round asking questions, getting deep into the budget, but also, more importantly or equally importantly, we pass a program out here and we pat ourselves on the back and say "well done," but we hardly ever have the follow up to see did it reach the objective that we laid out. Sometimes we don't lay out an objective. That's a problem in and of itself. Furthermore, it's going to be much more transparent. Let's say that I, as the pro tem, they have a finding on a program that I think is wasteful, but they're finding is it's hitting the targets and all the objectives. I won't be able to deep six that. Their reports will be immediately public, published on their website, and no member of the legislature will be able to keep them from publishing their information.
Pryor: Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, thank you very much for joining us on Capitol insider. And we'll be looking forward to visiting with you again later in the session.
Treat: Thank you so much.
Pryor: If you have questions e-mail us at email@example.com or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org or ecapitol.net. Until next time, I'm Dick Pryor.