Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Boren Plan Deserves Serious Consideration

Finally, a prominent Oklahoma leader has come up with the barebones of what I view as a workable and perhaps revisable plan to help bolster education funding in the state.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren has proposed a ballot initiative to allow voters to raise the state’s sales tax by one cent to help increase Oklahoma’s dismal funding of education.

Boren, according to news reports, said the increase would raise $615 million a year, and that $378 million could be used to give public school teachers a $5,000 raise. Oklahoma has some of the lowest average teacher salaries in the country and currently faces a major teacher shortage because of it. The state also ranks 49th in the nation in per pupil funding.

Boren said the additional money, among other things, would go to fund incentive pay for teachers, an issue pushed by conservatives. Some of the money would also go to higher education to limit tuition increases.

One of the first and somewhat negative reactions to the proposal came from the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa progressive think tank, which argues the tax, if voted into law, would hurt lower income people the most because sales taxes, as we all know, are regressive. OKPolicy did note it supported more funding for education overall, but, as usual, it seems to want to have it both ways when it comes to funding education. It’s for it, but, well, there doesn’t seem any way to get it done. Parse through the lines in this final sentence of its statement about the proposal:

Oklahomans urgently need real tax reform to create a tax system that does not put the greatest burden on those who can least afford it and that collects enough to meet critical needs of Oklahoma families — not just for education but also health care, safe communities, and other public services to ensure a stable economy and strong quality of life.

Translation: We’re probably not going to support this proposal and we know there’s not one iota of chance for “real tax reform” right now in our conservative-dominated state government. Also, education is important, but, well, is it AS important as, say, health care?

Watch for OKPolicy and the right-wing Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs to join together again to defeat another education funding proposal if Boren goes forward with it.

It seems to me that one obvious solution to the “regressive issue” when it comes to the sales tax increase would be to make it more progressive by exempting lower-income and middle-class income people from all or some of the “education tax” through income-tax credits or rebates. This might complicate the language on the petition drive to put the measure on the ballot, but at least it’s worth considering.

As it stands now, the state faces what will likely be a $1 billion shortfall next fiscal year, and state agency heads are getting informed that they could face cuts in their budgets. This complicates the ballot initiative even further.

If Boren and any type of coalition he helps to put together go forward with the proposal, those circulating the petition would need to collect 65,987 signatures in a 90-day period for the November 2016 ballot.

Sure, I agree that the tax proposal, as it stands, is regressive, but that can be fixed with credits and rebates in the tax code, and, it’s only ONE CENT. Even if the proposal stands as is, I would support it and urge other voters to do the same. We shouldn’t forget that lower-income people would benefit by better schools. This could enable them to raise their incomes. It goes together.

If this is what it takes to improve education funding, then we need to get behind it. We face a real emergency here when it comes to education funding. Let’s do something about it.

David and Barack

( – promoted by DocHoc)

Image of David Boren

“Senator Obama is also a person of sound and good judgment. He had the good judgment more than five years ago to warn against our involvement in this tragic and costly war. He also understands the need to repair our partnerships with other nations and to more effectively use diplomacy to serve our national interests.”-David Boren

David Boren’s recent endorsement of Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama is an oasis of hope for the state when compared to Oklahoma’s growing national reputation as a right-wing, intolerant haven for gay bashers and immigrant haters.

His endorsement also could be read as a wake up call to academics in the state.  In a statement related to the endorsement, Boren, pictured right, president of the University of Oklahoma, said, “I am joining Senator Barack Obama’s advisory team on foreign policy and national security because I believe it is my duty as a citizen to do all I can to help our country at this critical moment. Our strength is declining.  Eighty-one percent of Americans believe we are heading in the wrong direction. We must act quickly to meet and overcome the challenges we face.”

In other words, the country’s political systems are broken.  Oklahoma academics, using Boren as an example, should get involved in this presidential election as citizens “at this critical moment” in history no matter whom they support and that includes the Republican presumptive nominee John McCain.  There needs to be real debate and dialogue among Americans about the country’s direction.  Now more than ever, academics are crucial in starting and maintaining this debate.  A real debate will not be fostered by mainstream media outlets, which are stuck in tabloid-like rhetorical frames, a lazy, laughable “gotcha” flag pin reporting that has very little meaning in today’s world.  The recent ABC “debate” hosted by Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos represented a new low in meaningless, tabloid television.

Boren, a former U.S. Senator, told the Tulsa World, “I am not acting on behalf of the University of Oklahoma. This will in no way impact my work at the university.”  This is true. But Boren’s endorsement, along with his stature and position in Oklahoma higher education, tells other academics here and elsewhere that the current political situation in this country demands more direct participation in the process from professors and college administrators.  Perhaps, some state education leaders will even come to believe now they can abandon the neoconservative experiment, which continues to underfund education here at all levels.  

Boren will serve on Obama’s advisory team on foreign policy.  Boren was joined in his endorsement with Sam Nunn, a former U.S. Senator from Georgia, who will also serve on Obama’s foreign policy team.  Boren once served as leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Nunn was head of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Both Boren and Nunn are known as moderate to conservative Democrats.

Boren recently hosted a bipartisan summit at OU, which was attended by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who some in the media have speculated might run as an independent for president this year.  Boren’s and Nunn’s decision to support Obama indicates Bloomberg will probably not run.

I was highly critical of the bipartisan summit, arguing it was merely a cover for a Bloomberg presidential bid.  (One of my posts on the event was even featured in the Blog Report on Salon.com.)  I argued that Obama, in fact, seemed more independent-minded than Bloomberg, who is a former Democrat, then Republican, now turned independent.   In light of Boren’s endorsement, however, I find myself reconsidering the purpose of the summit.  Perhaps, jaded as much as anyone else with the current political milieu, I did not give enough credit to Boren’s stated intentions to help break the gridlock in Washington and the division that has dominated the country under President George Bush’s administration.

According to a statement released by the Obama campaign, Boren praised the presidential contender’s non-partisan approach.  Boren said, “Our most urgent task is to end the divisions in our country, to stop the political bickering, and to unite our talents and efforts. Americans of all persuasions are pleading with our political leaders to bring us together. I believe Senator Obama is sincerely committed to that effort. He has made a non-partisan approach to all issues a top priority.”

Oklahoma has taken a lot of hits lately when it comes to its national reputation.  First, state Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) authored a bill that created the strictest laws in the nation targeting illegal-immigrants.  Many Hispanic people-those here legally and not-have left the state because of the new laws.  This has generated terrible publicity for the state. Then, state Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) was caught on tape delivering her now famous anti-gay rant that has made her and the state a scourge.  The state continues to have never-ending problems, as publicized study after study shows the nation, in providing decent health care to its citizens.

Boren’s endorsement of Obama, covered by media outlets across the country, shows the world Oklahoma is home to some reasoned and rational people who understand, like a majority of Americans, the country now faces a crisis at home and abroad and a major change in the country’s direction is necessary.