[Oklahoma City, OK, February 17, 2016] We aren’t really sure how the executive branch of the state of Oklahoma misplaces over $40 million in education funds, but we are sure that it happened. After yesterday’s news of the recent “discovery” that there was a balance of $43.8 million in the 1017 Fund, we can only wonder why the money wasn’t found prior to the devastating news in December that there would be major cuts to account for an expected shortfall.
“We aren’t talking about pocket change or a few dollars we find when vacuuming under the couch cushions. We are talking about a huge chunk of money that no one seemed to realize was sitting in the bank. The Republicans continue to want to run public schools like a business – which they are not and should not be since we shouldn’t be trying to profit off of our children – but maybe they should be more concerned with running the state government more like a business,” said Sarah Baker, Communications Director for the Oklahoma Democratic Party.
“Governor Fallin, Ken Miller, and Preston Doerflinger continue to show the people of Oklahoma just exactly how incompetent they are and unable to do their job. Revenue shortfalls, budget failures, tax cuts, and now lost money are just further examples that the executive branch has no idea what they are doing. School districts cannot continue to operate under this kind of leadership; leadership that makes it nearly impossible for school boards and administration to properly plan for not just the remainder of this year, but the next fiscal year as well. The constant back-and-forth is giving the state of Oklahoma whiplash.”
It is incredibly clear with this revelation that every office under the executive branch needs a full and complete audit to determine just exactly what is going on with our money. The audit should be performed immediately and the results made available to the people of Oklahoma as soon as it is completed. The people of Oklahoma have the right to know what is going on, even if the Republicans in the executive and legislative branches have no clue.
Budget Failures and Buyouts
Taxpayers Continue Paying for Fallin’s Failures
[Oklahoma City, OK, February 12, 2016] Yesterday it was announced that Fallin’s general counsel, Steve Mullins, had accepted a buyout and will be moving on to something else professionally. Mullins is the third person directly related to the ongoing grand jury investigation regarding drug “mix-ups” in 2015. Robert Patton, State Corrections Department Director, and Anita Trammell, Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden also resigned or retired after their testimonies to the grand jury.
“Suspicion is definitely high right now and we all are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the grand jury investigation,” said Sarah Baker, Oklahoma Democratic Party Communications Director. “Furthermore, it is very concerning that at a time when the state is facing a now $1.3 billion revenue failure – a budget hole that is likely to grow as session moves forward – the Governor’s general counsel would receive a presently undisclosed buyout after giving his grand jury testimony. The Governor’s general counsel is not a position which can remain vacant so we can only wonder now how much these ‘mix-ups’ are going to continue to cost the taxpayers of Oklahoma. How many other severance packages or buyouts can we expect to see relating to this investigation.”
[Oklahoma City, OK, February 12, 2016] This week the Oklahoma Democratic Party followed up on their efforts to uncover the cost of Mary Fallin’s trip to Paris in June 2015, and all items and persons relating to said junket. The original open records request for the information was made on June 16, 2015, more than seven months ago.
In a response provided yesterday by Michael McNutt, Fallin’s Communications Director, he said that the Oklahoma Democratic Party wants to “leapfrog others who filed open records requests before it.” This could not be further from the truth; however, we do expect that the Governor’s office provide information requested by all parties, including the Oklahoma Democratic Party in a reasonable amount of time. The Open Records Act states that “[a] public body must provide prompt, reasonable access to its records.” It is the opinion of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, on behalf of the taxpayers and constituents of Oklahoma, that seven months with no results is neither prompt nor reasonable – yet par for the course with this inept Republican administration.
“We have been more than reasonable and patient while waiting on the Governor’s office to provide the information we requested. Even in November we reached back out to her office requesting the information or at minimum a timeline of when we could expect the information to be provided. The response from her office was essentially for us to wait in line,” stated Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Mark Hammons. “The Governor’s office has a bad habit of dragging out litigation in an apparent attempt to wear down her opposition or find a loophole to avoid providing information that the taxpayers of Oklahoma have a right to know.
“We have gone well past the timeframe originally outlined to the Governor’s office in which we would seek legal relief for this situation but her office has continued to refuse to comply. The Governor and her staff left us no option other than to pursue this through the courts. The simple fact is that the Governor’s refusal to provide information requested is a bad habit and she has been subsequently sued multiple times for this same reason. It is our goal to not only uncover exactly what happened regarding her trip to Paris but also bring to light the continued incompetence of the Governor and her office in fulfilling her duties and responsibilities as executive of the State of Oklahoma.”
Fallin Wants It Both Ways
Tells GOP Legislature to Pick Corporations Over Kids
Earlier this week Mary Fallin “warned” legislators to not even review if the massive corporate tax breaks the Republican leadership has pushed for the past six years are actually benefitting Oklahoma. Both during and after Fallin’s State of the State Address last week, it became apparent that her “goals” had not been discussed with anyone in the legislature. The Governor’s suggestion that Oklahoma may have lost two major business projects due to the legislature reviewing these tax credits – if true – would naturally be alarming, however the refusal of the Governor or her staff to go into further detail makes her statements seem more like a smoke screen to get what she and her corporate friends want.
Just last month, Fallin presented disingenuous commentary on General Electric’s decision to move from Connecticut to Boston, blaming the shift on the state’s high tax rates. While GE spokespersons said that tax incentives were certainly a small piece of the decision, they were not the whole pie. The move to Boston had more to do with educational opportunities for employees and their children, mass transit, and a thriving technology-driven workforce available at the ready. She failed, or all out refused, to admit in her commentary that the tax structure of Connecticut and Massachusetts are incredibly similar as that would make her argument less feasible.
Years of irresponsible revenue cuts, including the cut that went into effect this year in which the average household won’t see enough to take their family out to dinner, are finally coming home to roost. Republicans are hearing from their constituents who are more and more concerned about the negative effects of continued cuts to core services like education, roads and bridges, and public safety. Education has experienced the largest loss to revenue at $356 million, Higher Education at $138 million, and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority at $139 million. These are just the agencies with the three largest losses to revenue despite growing student population and health care needs of middle class and poverty stricken Oklahomans.
This comes on the heels of seeing the Fallin administration and Executive branch officials exempting their agencies from pay freezes, Fallin’s interim Corrections Director saying we need to close prisons, the possibility of over 110,000 low-income Oklahomans losing their Medicaid coverage, and lower than expected revenue for the month of January,
Once again, Fallin is pushing her own agenda at the expense of the well-being of Oklahomans. She continues to ignore the needs of the people and refuses to have constructive conversations with members of her own party. She continues to prove that she’s very skilled at dispensing political rhetoric and favors to her cronies but a failure when she is called upon to run the state and promote policies that help working Oklahomans.