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08 Jan
3

Oklahoma Education Cuts: The Deplorable Results of Republican Leadership

“Deplorable is the only word that comes to mind after yesterday’s announcement from the State Superintendent that a $47 million cut will eliminate programs in our public school systems,” said Sarah Baker, Communications Director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “While we are having debates over earthquakes, executions, and more tax breaks for billionaires, we are starving our children of a quality education. Oklahoma ranks at or near the bottom of every marker for public education. And just when you think the only way to go is up, the legislature and their irresponsible and reckless decisions have forced the elimination of funding for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and other ‘education initiatives,’ and slashed as much as 50-percent of teacher training programs and staff development. And although the Oklahoma Republican Party, just earlier this year, criticized SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) recipients, they have quite literally just taken food out of the mouths of children through a reduction of school lunch matching funds which address the hunger of thousands of children across Oklahoma who depend on school meals for most or all of their nutritional needs.”

In addition to the numerous cuts that students and teachers will be hit with in the middle of a school year, the prospect of closing or consolidation of entire school districts is a likely future step, sooner rather than later. Rural school districts will face hard decisions in the coming months unless the legislature and Governor decide to act. The Republican legislature fails to make public education a priority at every turn, and we expect them to act no differently this time. In some cases, larger urban school districts have minimal reserve funds to access, but those funds have been dwindling for years and with no relief in sight, could be dried up by the start of the 2016-2017 school year, only eight short months away.

Republicans have controlled the entire system in Oklahoma – from both houses of the State Legislature, to all statewide offices, all the way to the Governor’s office – for six years, and the contemptible conditions of our public schools rests squarely on their shoulders. Oklahoma Republicans have continued to show their lack of concern for Oklahoma’s children, middle class, seniors, and veterans through their quixotic legislative actions to give tax cuts in the middle of one of the worst budget failures Oklahoma has seen. No doubt the same Republican leaders, who pushed though damaging pieces of legislation over the past six years, which have led us to where we are today, will remain unrelenting for the next five months, unwilling to take responsibility for their actions.

Baker went on to say, “In an election year like 2016, candidates will be talking about how they ‘value’ public education, but we have a solid track record for a majority of the legislature that tells parents otherwise. The argument for ‘school choice’ becomes a lot easier for Republicans when they starve public schools of funds and resources, forcing parents to consider long commutes and expensive options because their State Senator or State Representative has refused to take action and properly fund schools in their own districts. This is manipulation at its finest, and Oklahoma is losing.”

07 Jan
0

The Magnitude of Failed Leadership: Speaker Silent While State Shakes

Oklahoma has experienced 24 earthquakes in the last day with a magnitude of 2.5 or greater; two in Alva over night, three in Edmond, and 19 in Fairview including a 4.7 and 4.8 that were less than one minute apart. The latest earthquake hit Fairview around 10:45 a.m. this morning with a magnitude of 2.6. This is not the first time Fairview has experienced significant earthquakes – in November 2015 they experienced a series of earthquakes including a 4.3 magnitude on November 15th.

In November, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) put forth an advisory that the wells within 3-6 miles of the epicenter of the November 15th earthquake reduce their volume by 25 percent, and wells within 6-10 miles cease operation and reduce depth. Unlike the plan set forth earlier this week in response to the recent Edmond earthquakes, there was no timeline for implementation listed and we are unable to verify at this time whether the suggested action for the Fairview wells has actually been taken. In contrast, no action has been taken or suggested to date in response to any seismic activity in the Alva area which hosts a large number of disposal wells in the vicinity.

Fairview and Alva both lie within Oklahoma House District 58, currently represented by none other than Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman. During the 2015 legislative session Speaker Hickman introduced two bills – HB 2178 and SB 809 – that tied the hands of local municipalities to have control over fracking activity in their areas. HB 2178 passed the House on a party-line vote but was never introduced in the Senate.

SB 809 however, passed the through the legislature – again on a party-line vote in both the House and Senate – and was subsequently signed by the Governor on May 29, 2015. The most concerning aspect of this bill is that localities “may not effectively prohibit or ban any oil and gas operations, including oil and gas exploration, drilling, fracture stimulation, completion, production, maintenance, plugging and abandonment, produced water disposal, secondary recovery operations, flow and gathering lines or pipeline infrastructure. All other regulations of oil and gas operations shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Corporation Commission.”

Russell Griffin, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party added, “Speaker Hickman has been silent through all of the recent seismic activity in his district and it is time for him to step up, take responsibility, and take action. Furthermore, it is time that Speaker Hickman admits the legislation he so vehemently fought for last year was wrong for Oklahoma, wrong for the people in his own district, and fractures the foundation of what we consider local control.”

05 Jan
0

Pruitt Request for Third-Party Audit is Shameful and Irresponsible

Whether it’s a feeble attempt by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to sue over another state’s ability to enact its own laws (Colorado), the blatant attempt at a cover-up after a botched execution (Clayton Lockett), or burning through state money in numerous unsuccessful lawsuits dealing with such pressing issues like keeping a slab of marble on the Capitol grounds, it’s obvious to the people of Oklahoma that Pruitt is not truly concerned with his responsibility to protect Oklahoma’s interest.

Now Pruitt’s office wants to refuse to allow Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones – an elected representative of the people and a member of the same political party – the access and ability to perform an audit of the Attorney General’s office over hurt feelings from statements Jones made in a previous news article. Jones, a Republican, continues to be the seemingly only voice of reason in Oklahoma Republican leadership by calling out the ridiculousness of the legislature’s inability to manage a budget and create revenue streams and the irresponsibility of actions of various state agencies – namely the Attorney General’s office – to make fiscally responsible decisions when Oklahoma is facing one of the worst budget crises ever.

Time and again we see news of Pruitt’s ethical violations, obvious cover-ups, and lopsided arguments that not only benefit special interest groups and wealthy campaign or Super PAC (political action committee) donors, but also are detrimental and wholly irresponsible to the people of Oklahoma. The disappointment sets in when evidence and coverage of these deplorable and irresponsible actions are drowned out by political rhetoric from the entirety of the Oklahoma Republican Party in an effort to create as much distraction – even if purely by accident and idiocy – as possible so that their constituents can’t see the source of the fire for all of the smoke.

“Scott Pruitt has proven time and time again he can’t be trusted as a good steward of taxpayer funds. He wants to outsource a job to a third-party that could very likely be partisan-based or benefit one of his campaign contributors or contributors of his PAC or Super PAC instead of allowing the State Auditor and Inspector, the chief financial officer of the State of Oklahoma, to do the job he was elected by the people to do. This shows a complete lack of respect for ethics and accountability in elected office and a lack of responsibility for taxpayer dollars especially during a revenue crisis. We say shame on the Attorney General’s office for even suggesting such an outlandish proposal,” stated Russell Griffin, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office has not undergone a comprehensive audit since 2009 and we can only begin to speculate what Pruitt is afraid Jones might find once the books are opened.

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Read Oklahoman article: Oklahoma attorney general seeks to select own independent auditor (January 4, 2016)

05 Jan
0

ODP Comments on Corporation Commission Plan for Disposal Wells

Oklahoma is currently experiencing the worst seismic activity we have ever known and despite more than 5,000 earthquakes ranging from a magnitude of 1.3 to 4.7 in the last year, the Oklahoma Legislature chose to stifle the ability for local municipalities to set limits for disposal wells based on the needs of their community. This move, steered by the Republican-dominated state legislature, the same politicians who continually campaign on the ideals of small government and local control, continue to spread misinformation and tie the hands of their own constituents.

Yesterday’s action by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Oil and Gas Conservation Division (OGCD) to call for a reduction in well activity is only a small step in dealing with a much larger problem. It is disappointing that the legislature and the Corporation Commission waited so long to take action towards remedying a problem that has been allowed to get so far out of control, especially over the past 3 years. This is evident by the recent news that Oklahoma has now become the earthquake capital of the world.

“Now, as we approach the start of the 2016 legislative session, we call on the legislature to take swift and immediate action to restore local control and deal with a problem which continues to spiral out of hand. Furthermore, we call upon the people of Oklahoma to hold their elected officials accountable for their action or inaction as it may be and should these officials refuse to take the necessary action, that communities join together to make purposeful and decisive steps at the ballot box in 2016 to elect new representatives that put the concerns of their people and property above the priorities of special interests,” said Mark Hammons, chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

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See Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s plan for Reduction in Volumes for Wells Located in Area of Interest for Induced Seismicity (January 4, 2016)

02 Jan
2

Fallin Asks Working Oklahomans to Foot the Bill

[Oklahoma City, OK, February 1, 2016] In today’s State of the State address from Governor Fallin, many were befuddled as to what direction she believes we should see the state go this year, other than the perpetual slide down the mountain. This year’s address was little more than more Republican rhetoric and talking points – spread far enough apart that when one statement contradicted an earlier one it was harder to spot.

Governor Fallin finally recognized that Oklahoma has a revenue problem, not a spending problem, but without admitting that the Republican legislature and her leadership are to blame. We are shocked that the Governor is proposing $900 million in new taxes in order to recuperate the losses incurred through her administration’s failed tax experiment. She is continuing to try to shift the tax burden from the people and corporations that are already receiving huge tax breaks and place it on the backs of hardworking Oklahoma families that need relief the most.

Today the Governor once again showed her lack of genuine support for public education in Oklahoma.A major part of her “green means go” budget proposal is a $3,000 per year pay increase for teachers. Our response: “Where is the money?!?!?” Oklahoma is in one of the biggest budget crises since the 1980s, with the possibility of yet another revenue failure in the coming months. Even if the legislature manages to pass this nominal pay raise, with Fallin’s massive sales tax increase, most teachers won’t see any of that money stay in their pocket.

Furthermore, rural schools and rural Oklahomans were placed on the chopping block with the suggestion of forced school consolidation and the Governor’s endorsement of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which only help a few in urban areas of the state. Rural Oklahoma’s educational options are not as broad as the private and charter school selection we see in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and the surrounding metropolitan areas however, the Governor and most Republican legislators support this model which has proven time and again to be black holes of financial ruin and a lack of accountability. The most important thing we can do is educate the children of our state, but Fallin’s failed leadership continues to demonize teachers and school administrators while punishing students and parents for the failed policies of this Republican administration.

Governor Fallin completely failed to address the numerous concerns around earthquakes and wastewater disposal wells – an issue that many Oklahomans from across the state have come out to protest the lack of action from the legislature and the Governor. Nothing was mentioned about a plan to embolden the Corporation Commission to take further action and there was no discussion on the recent $1.4 million transfer to conduct more research on the earthquakes.

Finally, there was no mention of any plan to expand Medicaid despite wide support from Oklahomans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike. Medicaid expansion would mean increased revenue for Oklahoma, the ability to save rural hospitals and care facilities, and provide nearly 100,000 Oklahomans with affordable healthcare coverage.

There were, however, a few points where, for a moment, there seemed to be a light switch flipped on far down the hallway. “She is proposing a ballot initiative to address issues affecting non-violent criminal sentencing policies such as those affecting drug possession and the minimum value threshold for grand larceny,” said Sarah Baker, Communications Director for the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “She also proposed modernizing Oklahoma’s sales tax not by increasing the rate but by ‘broadening the tax base’ by imposing new or additional taxes on more goods and services.

“This State of the State address was an example in the Governor’s lack of concern for the issues facing the poor and middle class, children and families, and teachers. It was, however, another example of her unwavering support for failed economic policies, political rhetoric, and talking points that given enough distance in a speech can contradict themselves.”

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