At this point in the current Oklahoma legislative session, I think it’s reasonable to argue that our not-so-popular conservative state leaders are waiting until the last minute to fully address the $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next fiscal year.
— NewsOK (@NewsOK) May 12, 2016
I think it’s also reasonable to argue that the Republicans in the legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin are probably going to implement serious cuts to state agencies, and they want to wait until the last minute so there’s less time for people and various stakeholders to organize protests or explain fully how the cuts could be devastating to ordinary Oklahomans before they go into effect. The session is scheduled to adjourn by May 27, only two working weeks away. Legislative leaders in the past have adjourned sessions several days before the adjournment date, and that could happen this time as well.
Conservatives, then, could create the carnage, and then go home and let everyone suffer through the mess they created by approving income tax cuts in recent years that primarily benefited the wealthy and by giving major tax breaks to the oil and gas industry.
A state Senate committee has passed some bills that might help the state collect $190 million in one set of legislation and then $130 million in another set in additional revenue, but that’s a pittance given the overall $1.3 billion budget shortfall and given the fact education, health programs and social services have already dealt with cuts because of revenue failures this fiscal year. The same committee on Thursday approved cuts to tax credits for energy efficient home construction, the earned income credit and child care service providers. Both the earned income credit and the credit for child care providers will hurt children and families the most, but that fits with the conservative ideology that has already broken this state.The full Senate has passed a bill to end a tax break for at-risk fossil fuel wells, which is good, but who knows if it will get signed into law. A measure that would ask companies to voluntarily collect state sales taxes on purchases made on the Internet by Oklahoma residents awaits the governor’s signature. No one really knows how much money that might generate, and the key word is “voluntarily.” It almost seems like a waste of energy to write about all the proposals because of the overall disparate approach by legislators. Sorry for the long paragraph. Who knows what will eventually get passed or how much overall revenue might be generated by the proposals?
Donald Trump is willing to violate the norms of democratic politics in scary ways https://t.co/GpgtuK2Ufd
— Vox (@voxdotcom) May 13, 2016
The tone of a press release lauding the Senate committee’s action contained the current conservative mantra when it comes to the budget shortfall. According to state Sen. Clark Jolley, an Edmond Republican, the GOP-dominated Senate is making “tough decisions.” Then there’s this from Jolley in the release:
The goal isn’t to formulate a budget based on how much money we’d like to spend, as my Democratic colleagues lamented during the committee hearing. The goal is to know how much we have to spend and then adjust our spending priorities accordingly, like Oklahoma families and businesses do every day.”
Right, those pesky laments by Democratic leaders are the real problem here. This is how you should read the above quote: There are big cuts coming in many areas of government.
What is especially depressing about Jolley’s comments is the current dismal funding for education. Oklahoma has cut education the most of any state in the nation on a percentage wise basis from 2008 to 2015. Public schools here face a major teacher shortage, primarily because the cuts have resulted in the elimination of teaching positions and because teachers can just drive down the road to Dallas and start teaching there for a lot more money. Teachers here, it should go without saying, need a major raise, and the state needs to come up with the money or an already dire situation will become a full-blown catastrophe.
Of course, cuts to social services and Medicaid could be devastating as well, but the continued anti-education bias in Oklahoma has implications that go far beyond next year’s budget. Our public educational systems impact everything, from health to corrections. Without adequately funded educational systems, expect more poverty, poor medical outcomes and more prison inmates. It’s as if the conservative leaders have deliberately chosen to keep the state hostage to its numerous social problems.
Legislators have also been considering a hike in cigarette taxes and expanding the states tax to services not previously taxed. The second idea is problematic because it would probably be challenged in court without a three-fourths majority vote in both chambers of the legislature. As I pointed out earlier, no significant wide-sweeping legislation dealing with the budget that I know of has been fully passed and signed into law. What we have is an assortment of proposed legislation to create more revenue, some of which is problematic on different levels for whom it will impact or how well it will withstand legal scrutiny. There has been no announced major budget agreement between Fallin and the legislature, and there’s only two working weeks to go before the scheduled adjournment.
— News 9 (@NEWS9) May 7, 2016
I know this idea gets laughed away by the state conservative leadership, but what we need in Oklahoma are real progressive government policies and a real progressive taxation system. We need to raise taxes on the state’s wealthiest people, who have already benefited from income tax cuts in recent years, and we need to raise gross production taxes on the oil and gas industry. We can’t get there this year because Oklahoma is dominated by conservatives, who have broken the state, but this IS an election year.