The Oklahoman calls it a “bold plan,” but Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State address, which offered up a mixture of proposed tax cuts and hikes, left out any real solution to the state’s bleak financial situation or how any of her proposals might make it through our right-wing legislature.

The proposed tax cuts—no more sales taxes on groceries and ending the corporation tax—which by current calculations would leave the state with a budget shortfall of even more than the estimated $868 million depending when they take effect. She also wants to raise the cigarette tax and the fuel tax, the latter hike dedicated to road and bridge work, but she needs to get those hikes through a recalcitrant Republican-dominated legislature and an angry Democratic minority, who probably won’t and shouldn’t play her game.

All tax hikes take a three-fourths majority for approval, which even The Oklahoman concedes will need Democratic Party support because the party they politically support, the Republican Party, has broken Oklahoma through unwise tax cuts and breaks in recent years that have primarily benefited the wealthy.

Somehow, out of this fiscal mess, teachers will get raises, according to Fallin’s so-called bold plan.

In her prepared remarks, Fallin said, “Let’s act on a permanent pay raise for our public school teachers. It is what the public and families want. The pay raise may need to be phased in and it may be targeted, but it must be done.”

Yet voters overwhelming voted down a proposal to give teacher raises in the Nov. 8 election. Also, the key words in the above statement are “phased in” and “targeted,” both qualified by the word “may.”

Where does the money even come from to raise teacher salaries and what about state workers outside of education? Well, Fallin also argued for expanding the sales tax base:

Many decades ago, when the Legislature first contemplated the sales tax laws to boost revenues, the economy depended on the manufacture and sale of goods. As the economy in the United States has shifted from a manufacturing-based economy to a services-based economy, the way we impose taxes and collect revenue no longer reflects the current economy, but instead an outdated system that has not changed much since its inception.

But what services will be taxed and how much and will Republican legislators vote in favor of an overall plan to raise taxes.The lack of specifics in the speech is glaring.

I’m obviously in favor of ending the sales tax on groceries, which impacts lower-income people the most because they must spend a higher proportion of their money on the necessities of life, but could it work out the legislature cuts millions more in tax collections by eliminating that tax and the corporate tax without expanding the sales tax base. Yes, that could easily and probably will happen.

Fallin’s speech struck me, as I read through it, as fairly rote, general, maybe even a bit lethargic. Perhaps, that’s the most we can hope for these days. To her credit, she did mention criminal justice reform in a state that imprisons the most women in the nation on a percentage basis.

But there’s no getting around the facts. Oklahoma once again faces a major budget shortfall. It has cut education funding the most of any state in the nation on a percentage basis since 2008. Teachers trained here are still flocking to other states for better pay. The legislature also cut funding to higher education by nearly 16 percent this fiscal year. The prevailing priorities among Fallin and the Republican-dominated government when it comes to education is quite clear if you judge it—and you should—by the heavy cuts in funding.

It could be worse, of course, and it probably WILL get worse in Fallin’s last two years as governor and under the authoritarian presidency of Donald Trump.

 

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