In my last post, I discussed an article written by Tom Daxon, a former state auditor and inspector, that was ostensibly about suggesting ideas to lessen the state’s massive budget crisis but was really a Tea Party rant against “socialism’s embrace.”
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank that tries to put an intellectual spin on conservative dogma no matter how contradictory, published the article.
Compare that article to a recent blog post by David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a think tank that some will argue leans left but most often just crunches budget numbers and makes sensible, nonpartisan suggestions about tax and other government policy.
In the post, “The state budget crisis: Time to put leadership over policies,” Blatt shows some of the human toll the budget crisis could take on Oklahomans and argues the state’s politicians need to show some political courage to help generate more revenues. His arguments are nonpartisan. They refer to both Democrats and Republicans.
With the end of the legislative session fast approaching, the budget remains unsettled. We know that various revenue options are being discussed by legislative leaders and the Governor, but that nothing has been decided. While there is general agreement that the consequences of not generating additional revenues would indeed be dire, it is still unclear whether there is sufficient political will to adopt revenue solutions. There are some at the Legislature who seem positively excited by this opportunity to shrink the size of government, and others who declare themselves open to new revenues in principle, but are quick to oppose any specific attempt to raise a fee or close a tax loopholes that risks being politically unpopular. Some seem eager to stand aside and let the worst happen so they can blame the consequences on their opponents.
Blatt highlights different arguments and gives us a credible view of what’s happening at the Capitol. Unlike Daxon, he doesn’t use the talking points of a political party to make or frame his points. He focuses on facts like this one: “The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is considering the elimination of prescription drug coverage, diabetes supplies and kidney dialysis treatment for adult Medicaid recipients.” That’s just a fact. Daxon talks about a fictional “drift back toward Europe” in his article.
There’s a real difference between Blatt’s and Daxon’s approaches that should be noted by the state’s political leaders, corporate power structure and anyone concerned with the state budget. We need sensible leadership right now and that will mean political compromise and an honest look at what will happen to people served by health and social service programs. Also, what will happen to our educational systems next school year? Teachers could be facing massive layoffs because of the budget crisis. Class sizes will probably get larger. What will that mean in a state that has a low college graduation rate compared to the national average?
Sometimes it seems as if some political leaders right now are simply in denial about the human suffering and the permanent institutional damage that will ensue because of next year’s budget shortfall that has been estimated at $600 to $850 million. At the very least, we should find ways to generate as much revenue as possible. Blatt and others have suggested several ways to generate more revenue by eliminating needless tax credits and incentives.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s April revenues came in slightly under the estimate, which shows, according to Blatt, a “return to pre-downturn levels is likely to remain long and slow.”