I have often been asked what I’ve been surprised by since I took office in November.
Usually I say I haven’t had any real surprises; the process is about what I expected and I had a pretty good idea of what I was signing up for.
But there have been a few surprises.
In my last column, I suggested the budget crisis is worse than the one last year. Six months ago the revenue shortfall was projected at about $600 million.
In a conversation with the Governor a week before the State Board of Equalization (BOE) released its December forecast, she suggested the shortfall might be lower than that.
Then the BOE projected an $868 million shortfall. I contend the real number may be much higher.
That was a surprise.
It was no surprise to me that agencies tend to become fiefdoms. In some ways that is legitimate. If an agency is doing a good job, meeting real needs of the citizens, it’s the director’s job to fight to keep the agency on track.
Unfortunately, agency heads often seem to think that their job is to continually expand and build their own personal power bases.
I’ve heard talks about department heads whose attitude are, “Senator, you’re term limited and I’m not. I’ll be here long after you’re gone.”
Ask an agency head for help in carefully whittling a budget, rather than just giving the department a straight cut and the answer seems to always be, “We can’t cut anywhere. You’re just going to have to raise revenue.”
Then don’t be surprised if the department head releases a memo that will get into the press crying out like Chicken Little that the sky is falling, the agency is under attack, horrible suffering will soon follow and it’s all the legislature’s fault.
The degree of unwillingness of agencies to be transparent, honest in their dealings with legislators, and cooperative in the process, is a problem.
That was a bit of a surprise.
There is a serious budget deficit this year, there are those who are entrenched in agencies and elsewhere who see defending their fiefdoms as a war that must be won no matter the cost, but there are also so many things that I have found I must be grateful for.
And I am truly grateful.
There are the legislators I have gotten to know, many of whom have helped me, prayed for me and been a blessing. There are those in my district who have allowed me the privilege of being a senator.
There are those who contact me to offer support and those who vehemently disagree with me, but whose arguments force me to think and analyze my positions. There is this Capitol building that I look at each morning on my way in, often telling myself something like, “This is so cool.”
There are the agencies I need to understand, and work with to serve our citizens, and be frustrated by at times.
And there is the budget that I have the chance to have a small part in addressing.
There have been a few surprises, and I am grateful for each of them.
Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Big Cabin), whose district includes parts of Delaware County, is in his first term of office in the Oklahoma Senate. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 405-521-5561.