How the last-minute Oklahoma budget deal “protects” any vital state agency or system is a real mystery, but that’s how conservative legislative leaders and Gov. Mary Fallin want people to view their work at the state Capitol this session.
— KFOR (@kfor) May 24, 2016
Just for reference, here was the headline over a NewsOK.com story about the budget agreement announcement: “Oklahoma legislative leaders say new budget protects education, health.”
Let’s be clear that the budget does not protect any vital agency, such as the Department of Human Services, or any educational system or any health program in the state. It’s predicated on estimates and perceptions of future revenues. It cuts higher education by a staggering 15.9 percent over last year, and appropriates $60 million less over last year for K-12 public education, which has experienced severe cuts already. Common education did NOT receive flat funding like the conservatives want you to believe.There were no teacher raises, of course. Again, if revenues drop this coming fiscal year below estimates, the cuts will begin anew, and this time they could begin earlier in the budget year.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) May 17, 2016
Some agencies, such as the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, received a small increase over last year’s appropriation, but any new revenue failures could wipe that out quickly.
The nearly $6.8 billion budget, a conservative morass created in last-minute deals and bitterness, is a mighty mess of epic proportions. It doesn’t protect. It devastates. It dumbs down the state. It hurts the poor by reducing the Earned Income Tax Credit. It uses one-time revenues that probably won’t be available next fiscal year, consequently setting up another future budget crisis that could match or even exceed the disaster conservatives created this year.
What if we’ve reached peak oil demand in the world and crude prices never recover to those highs of $100 a barrel or more? What if state tax revenues continue to slide? What if the brain drain the state is now experiencing grows itself into a full-blown crisis if it hasn’t already?
This financial disaster was absolutely created by conservative legislators who have pushed and passed income tax cuts that have primarily benefited the wealthy and given regressive tax breaks to oil and gas companies that have primarily benefited rich oil executives and major stockholders. Lower fossil fuel prices have reduced revenues from gross production taxes, for sure, but that’s just one part of the story, the only one conservative politicians want people to consider. It was also the conservative and reckless “drill, baby, drill” mantra that got the frackers into a mess in the first place.
What most conservative legislators want people to think is that the downturn in oil prices is fully responsible for the financial mess here and that they’re doing a great job responding to it. But as Reuters and other news outlets outside of Oklahoma have reported, conservative political leaders have essentially given away the state to oil and gas companies and the wealthy. I repeat: Oklahoma conservative political leaders are not protecting the interests of working-class and/or middle-class people. They’re protecting the wealthy, and that’s what this budget does.
I’ve noted that new and even some old voices have emerged and re-emerged to strongly protest the last-minute political shenanigans at the state Capitol and the financial disaster created by conservatives this year. This is good news. The conservatives broke Oklahoma, and now it’s time for other people to fix it.