I’m sure some will see this argument as trivial, but Gov. Mary Fallin’s praise of next year’s fiscal year state budget seemed overly hyperbolic and ignored a couple of key points.
In a June 1 news release about the recent legislative session, Fallin noted the $7.1 billion approved budget was “a fiscally responsible blueprint.” She also made sure everyone knew just how much money is going to education in Oklahoma:
I’m proud legislators and I were able to pass a budget in challenging times that shields common education, our largest and one of our most important expenses, from budget cuts. Under this budget, approximately 51 cents of every dollar appropriated by state government will continue to go toward education. . . .
I’m assuming that “51 cents of every dollar” has clear evidence behind it, but what Fallin doesn’t mention in the news release is that Oklahoma from 2008 to 2014 cut education funding by 23.6 percent, the most in the nation. Shielding our K through 12 educational system from budget cuts is a lot different than really investing in education and raising teacher salaries from their dismal levels. Those low salaries have helped lead to a teacher shortage here. Fallin also mentions agencies that received funding boosts, but the budget also slashed some agencies by 7.25 percent and cut higher education by 3.5 percent, which could lead to tuition hikes. The budget also uses one-time money to make ends meet and that portends a potential for another budget shortfall crisis again next year.
I realize Fallin’s statement was typical rah rah, but it’s just this type of perfunctory rhetoric that inhibits change in how we fund the state’s most important core services.
I went through the release fairly thoroughly and even did a word search of “tax,” and I could find no mention of the income tax cut from 5.25 to 5 percent that is going into effect this coming January because of a flawed budget forecast triggering system. Some estimate that cut will cost the state more than $50 million this coming fiscal year. Meanwhile, the state is cutting higher education, slashing funding elsewhere and making a big deal out of the fact it didn’t cut common education. All that is part of the state’s “fiscally responsible blueprint.” Right.
Again, I understand that some end-of-the-legislative-session praising is customary, especially when you’re the de facto Republican Party leader in a state government completely dominated by Republicans, but Fallin puts an overly joyful spin on budget cobbled together with cuts and one-time money sources. That’s the reality.