Okla. Ship of State is Capsizing, And We’re All in the Same Boat By State Rep. Ben Loring

MIAMI, OK (7 April 2017) – I have been told about a recent poll that claims more than one-third (36%) of Oklahoma’s voters mistakenly believe “the Democrats” control the Legislature, and the poll goes even further in that the same voters are evenly split at 50/50 as to which party is responsible for the state’s current economic crisis.

After my immediate sense of indignation subsided, I began to think about this a little more rationally. Basically what that poll is saying is the voters don’t care whose fault it is; they don’t want finger-pointing. What they need and want is that we, your elected leaders, fix the problem. And the voters are right. It is not a D or an R who needs to fight to keep our schools from increasing to 30+ students in a classroom and our rural hospitals from closing. It is not a D or an R who needs to keep our state parks open to serve as an economic generator to businesses, hotels and eateries for miles around. It is legislators who need to step up and lead this state through this crisis. And the voters are right to expect that from both the D’s and the R’s.

And the numbers (for instance, 73 R’s to 26 D’s in the House, with two vacancies) require it. They necessitate that the D’s and R’s work together to get done the things that the voters expect of us.

For example, to pass a bill that raises revenue – which everyone except the most dim-witted understands needs to be done – requires 76 affirmative votes in the House of Representatives. The R’s can’t do it on their own; they don’t have 76, and obviously the D’s can’t do it, either. The state cannot withstand another budget year of slashing and destruction. So, we have to work together.

That is not to say everyone should expect the D’s and R’s to march down Lincoln Boulevard arm in arm, singing “Kumbaya”. There are differences; philosophical and pragmatic disagreements, as to what needs to be done.

The most significant issue is: Who is going to pay for it? Is the burden of the tax increase or the reduced service or benefit going to fall primarily on the backs of the poor, the ever-diminishing middle class, or the wealthy? The injured worker or the corporation that profited from his or her labor? When the polluter, the criminal, or the parent that neglects his or her child fails in their moral duties, to what extent should the state government step in, protect the victim and try to undo the damage? When we are trying to fix or sustain someone, whether we are talking about the sick, the mentally ill, the addict, the disabled, the suffering veteran, the struggling victim of domestic abuse, the student pursuing his or her education to break the cycle of generational poverty – what role should our state government play in that endeavor? And how much of the tab should be picked up by Oklahoma taxpayers?

There are lots of rumors flying around the State Capitol rotunda about how this budget crisis is going to be addressed. There is the D plan. Various R’s claim to have a plan. These will be fleshed out over the next two months. No side is going to get everything they want. There will be give-and-take. But the important thing is that there is conversation going on between both sides right now – not as much as there should be, but more than at any other time in my limited experience here.

So what are we really talking about? One of the R proposals is to eliminate the itemized deduction on your state income taxes. That means everybody would have to take the standard deduction. I don’t like that one bit – not because it is an R idea, but because it hurts families that pay a mortgage; it hurts families that tithe to their church, etc. In other words, it hurts large segments of my constituency and similar folks all across the state. So I would most probably vote against this. But if we can agree to something else which is worthwhile to the state and my constituents, and that offsets the disadvantages of this idea in return for a “yes” vote, I certainly would consider voting for it.

We are all in this together and there is a lot we can accomplish by working together. However, after releasing the D’s’ “Restore Oklahoma Plan” to get the state out of its financial hole, and encouraging constituents to email all Representatives what they like or dislike about our plan, or for any other reason a citizen has to contact all Representatives, leadership shut down the IT system for incoming emails to multiple Representatives. Really? That is open, transparent, responsive government that encourages everyone to work together?!

Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.

(Representative Loring is a Democrat from Miami.)



Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
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