Most everyone would agree the Oklahoma budget shortfall and what to do about it should be the top priority of state legislators, but this won’t stop unrelated and unneeded right-wing initiatives at the Capitol for the remainder of the session.
Faced with an estimated $600 to $850 shortfall, the legislature should get serious about looking for more revenue. By some estimates, agencies could be cut 10 to 12 percent, which would decimate health and social services programs and the education budget.
Some mental health experts predict such cuts will lead to a higher suicide rate and more criminal activity here, which will only add to the state’s ridiculously high incarceration rates. Oklahoma school children will be packed in classrooms like chickens in a corporate poultry factory once teacher layoffs begin in earnest.
Eliminating some tax credits is one way to raise money, but the Republican leadership and the corporate media are already trying to qualify the issue. Apparently House Speaker Chris Benge (R-Tulsa) recently made an argument in favor of some important tax credits. His argument was later endorsed by The Oklahoman editorial page.
Whether Benge’s specific arguments are valid or not might not be as important at this point as the overall signal he sent about tax credits and the accompanying cheerleading at The Oklahoman, which serves as the public relations office of the GOP. Does the GOP plan a fight against proposals by House Democrats to eliminate certain tax credits? Probably.
Meanwhile, against a backdrop of political posturing, it’s safe to say furloughs and layoffs have demoralized many state employees, who are uncertain about their future. Many teachers are also worried about losing their jobs or teaching in extremely overcrowded classrooms next year. Many new teachers, who are graduating this May, are obviously worried about finding jobs.
But the human cost and real tragedy of the budget crisis won’t stop the right-wing legislative machine from extreme proposals. House Bill 3354, for example, would allow people with concealed-weapon permits to openly carry their guns in Oklahoma. Supposedly it’s one of those “Second Amendment” issues. Also, expect a veto override attempt by the Republican leadership on a bill exempting the state from federal gun regulations.
Republicans have also discussed passing an anti-illegal immigration bill that would be tougher than the one passed recently in Arizona.
If progressive and centrist Democrats think things are bad this year, and they should, just wait until 2011. If U.S. Rep Mary Fallin, the leading Republican candidate for governor, is elected and the GOP retains and widens majorities in the House and Senate, a new type of dark ages will truly commence here. Get ready.