Note to all Oklahomans: Brace yourself. It’s only going to get worse.
— KOKH FOX 25 (@OKCFOX) March 23, 2016
The announcement Wednesday that the Oklahoma City School District is cutting 208 teaching positions because of the fiscal crisis created by conservative legislative policy and a downturn in the oil and gas industry is the beginning of the bad news not an end of it.
Cuts to schools, universities, social services and health programs are only going to get worse not better in the coming months because the state is currently in a revenue failure and faces at least a $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next fiscal year, which begins in July. The state’s discretionary budget in recent years has been around approximately $7 billion, one of the smallest in the nation. Even Wyoming, with a population under 600,000, has a larger state budget than Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, bankruptcies of oil and gas-related companies and industry layoffs continue unabated as energy prices remain low because of a glut of fossil fuels created by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom here and its mind-boggling and perhaps corrupt mismanagement. How difficult is it, really, to determine supply and demand? A boom always leads to a bust because of basic human greed, and Oklahoma is never prepared for a bust. Never.
The layoffs mean less tax revenues and less money for retailers and other businesses, such as restaurants and bars, which could lead to even more unemployment. It will mean major college tuition increases this coming all and beyond. As I’ve written before, no one is going to go unscathed except for the wealthiest Oklahomans. The people who will suffer the most, of course, are the poorest among us. It’s the old story, the basic tale of sin outlined in that book both used and then blatantly ignored by the right-wing zealots here to damage our state.
The question now is not whether the state is entering into a 1980s-era type of local depression, but how much worse it will get than that time period when people left Oklahoma in droves or suffered through the poverty and the mediocrity because they had no choice. For some Oklahomans right now, leaving the state might be their only option. For you newcomers, depopulation is nothing new to this place The problem is that it creates a brain drain because college-educated people have the most options seeking employment elsewhere. Oklahoma ranks low among states in its number of college graduates.
Just like the collapse of Penn Square Bank symbolizes the 1980s downturn so does the demise and death of wildcatter Aubrey McClendon symbolize the recent Oklahoma financial apocalypse. Read about the not-so-great McClendon here to get the full picture.
What makes this especially infuriating is that it all could have been mitigated and tempered by sensible government fiscal polices and more economic diversification in the state. It’s as if our state leaders in both the private and public sectors learned nothing from the 1980s or know nothing about boom-and-bust fossil fuel cycles or are clueless about the increasing amount of energy created throughout the world and even in Oklahoma by renewable sources, such as wind power.
Thus, the mediocrity continues here in a state that has cut education funding the most on a percentage basis since the national Great Recession that began around 2008.
— Ed Kelley (@edkelley16) March 3, 2016
Income tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy and huge tax incentives for the oil and gas industry and other corporations, all deployed under the rubric of conservative ideology, have in a very real sense broken this state. It’s time for a tidal wave of political change here, but is that even possible when the smartest and most educated are forced once again to flee the state never to look back unless they’re looking for a laugh or two?
This is a financial disaster created by conservatives and their monolithic, inhumane illogic, and it’s happening in other states, such as Kansas and Louisiana, as well. It didn’t have to be this way.
— OurChildrenOK (@OurChildrenOK) March 22, 2016