A state senator looking into how much money Oklahoma spends to provide health insurance to its employees says she doesn’t see “a reduction being in the cards,” but it won’t do much to appease concerns this is the beginning of an effort by legislators to cut benefits.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) October 24, 2016
State Sen. Kim David, a Porter Republican, was quoted about the “cards” in The Oklahoman recently after she and state Rep. Michael Rogers, a Broken Arrow Republican, held what gets called a “study” by a joint Senate and House committee. The committee met, according to a legislative press release, to study “how to better serve the health needs of state and education employees while also controlling health care costs to the state.”
It’s hard not to read between the lines on this issue. Here’s a quote from the press release: “Rogers said he was concerned about the astronomical costs of insuring the state’s school employees.” Here’s a quote from David in the press release: “If we want to give our teachers a pay raise, right now everything that we have keeps going into covering their additional healthcare costs.”
The focus on insurance for teachers and school employees and the tie-in with raises is telling. The bottom line is if the state gives teachers a raise but then cuts their insurance benefits, then there’s no real raise or at least it becomes a smaller raise. David, as I mentioned, said a cut isn’t in “the cards,” but she’s just one Republican legislator among many Republican legislators, who have a proven track record of passing tax cuts and breaks that benefit the state’s wealthiest citizens and oil and gas companies while slashing public education funding.
According to the release, the state “spends on average $274 million for the annual state employee benefit allowance and $441 million for the education employees’ benefit allowance.” The costs are rising because, well, all health costs and health insurance costs are rising because we have a medical system that spends too much money on reaping profits for insurance companies and also because the country doesn’t have a Medicare-like universal insurance option that would control costs.
I’m not the only one to see the “study” as a beginning of an effort to cut benefits for teachers and state employees.
Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, attended the study and was quoted this way in The Oklahoman article:
One state bureaucrat said that it is rare for employers to pay as much toward health insurance as the state of Oklahoma does for its employees and their families. That’s easy to claim when you make more than $100,000 per year like he does.
Zearly also noted that overall benefits for state employees are about 20 percent less than what the private sector usually offers.
Along those lines, it’s important to note as well that teachers in Oklahoma are paid some of the lowest salaries in the nation. Oklahoma will vote Nov. 8 on State Question 779, a measure that would raise the state sales tax by one cent that would produce more than $600 million annually for different education areas and give teachers a $5,000 raise.
I support SQ 779 and a poll shows there’s a majority support for the measure, but will Republican legislators essentially honor those results to ensure the state can hire and retain great teachers or will they try to cut benefits?
— Yes For 779 (@YesFor779) October 23, 2016