I’m going to argue a position that might seem counter intuitive to progressives here: They should support, not oppose, raises for judges and elected statewide officials that are supposed to go into effect soon.
Of course, the raises are not going to happen. Both leading legislative Republicans and Democrats are vowing to stop the raises, and they have the apparent blessing of The Oklahoman, the state’s largest right-wing media outlet.
The status quo, bipartisan argument is that the current, negative economic climate, which began under a GOP presidential administration, and diminished state revenues, caused at least partially by Republican-backed state tax cuts, means no raises for virtually anyone in Oklahoma government-other public employees or most educators-in the foreseeable future.
And when you take that argument and mix it in with Gov. Mary Fallin’s push to cut income taxes again next year, what you get is a realization of conservative Grover Norquist’s famous dictum that we should take government and “shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” That dictum has become the operating norm here, and progressives acquiesce by joining conservatives in implementing the strategy to shrink government to make rich folks richer.
Shouldn’t progressives push for raises for ALL public employees? Shouldn’t progressives strive to create a state government system that demands responsible fiscal policies that include adequate salaries and regular raises for its employees? Shouldn’t progressives make it more difficult for conservatives to shrink government as they implement tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy? What’s the point of pitting one group of government employees against another? Isn’t that what conservatives want?
The raises total about $350,000, a relatively small amount when compared to the overall budget. The Board on Judicial Compensation recommended the raises last year; the salaries of statewide elected officials are attached to the judicial pay rate.
So, as a response to Fallin’s tax cut plan, why don’t progressives support these raises and make it part of an overall major plan to raise salaries for all government employees, including those public educators who have gone years without adequate raises? Would this be unpopular? Maybe. It would certainly draw conservative fire. It depends on how the plan is presented, but, really, how much lower can the progressive and/or Democratic “brand” get at this point in the state?
The plan would be a proactive counter to the conservative agenda, and remind hard-working state employees and teachers someone is fighting for their interests.