By Wallace Collins, Chair
Oklahoma’s Republican leadership has a long history of a pattern of bad behavior. Early on, it was Governor Frank Keating calling teachers ”slugs,” then he claimed that Oklahoma college graduates could not properly fill out a job application. Later on, Frank Keating was asked by a media reporter, how he would deal with teachers and their organization, the OEA. Keating’s smart alec reply was “homicide.” Still later, Republican Labor Commissioner, Mark Costello called state employees “feral hogs,” but when confronted by a TV reporter, he said he didn’t mean state employees, he meant teachers.
We then follow those mistakes in judgement with the collusion between current governor, Mary Fallin and past Superintendent of Public Instruction, Janet Barressi to close the small but important state agency for Assistive Technology. That small agency provided education, technology, coaching, and equipment for people with various disabilities, mostly children. Even after several budget reductions, the Assistive Technology Agency was closed leaving thousands looking for help.
The current legislature is not exempt from this pattern of bad behavior. They continue passing more tax cuts and failing to close loopholes when everyone is well aware of the huge budget shortfall – now expected to possibly reach $670 million according to Earl Sears, (R-Bartlesville) Chari of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. The Republicans are attempting to use sleight of hand tricks to fill the huge budget hole, things like HB-1827 by Scott Martin (R-Norman) which would raise fees on funeral homes and institute a true “Death Tax” by creating a new fee on the filing of death certificates.
Other bad behavior includes the idea of robbing the teachers’ retirement fund of money to use for other purposes. Oklahoma teachers have never been well paid, and it is unbelievable that some Grinch would want to then steal from the well-earned pension program, but that idea is a part of the Republican “fill the hole” program. Retired teachers have done without a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for about seven years, losing as much as 15% of their purchasing power. Last year the governor bragged about adding “new money” for education, but what she didn’t tell us was that the new money followed 23% cuts in funding, the deepest cuts to education of any state in the union. So the so-called “new money” brought Oklahoma education funding up to 2008 funding levels. I guess Oklahoma voters should be satisfied that education funding levels are only seven years behind the rest of the country. Forty-thousand more students and much less money sounds like bad math to me!
Oklahomans have already been warned by the governor that all agencies can expect deep cuts in funding, approaching 7% or more. With mental health programs and services and Oklahoma veterans already suffering from neglect and past budget cuts, they can certainly expect more pain and suffering, as can the state employees, and the Department of Corrections. Prison overcrowding and staff shortages have long passed the dangerous level, causing Oklahoma to lead the nation for in-prison murders. Correction staff and guards are at risk every day and should there be a riot, most likely could not even protect themselves, much less other inmates.
Additionally, there are plans are to raid the County Improvement to Roads and Bridges Fund – the funding source used by counties to replace the many dilapidated county roads and bridges in Oklahoma – which then puts everyone that travels in rural Oklahoma at risk.
Another bad option being considered by Republicans comes with HB-1566, which would privatize Medicaid and balance the budget on the backs of “non-institutionalized aged, blind, and disabled persons.”
In spite of all this, Governor Fallin and her Republican leaders in the House and Senate have refused to put off or rescind the next round of tax cuts slated to go into effect in July of this year. The tax cuts will further reduce the amount of money the state can appropriate, when it cannot currently pay all of its bills. I think it was once called “VooDoo Economics.”
All Oklahomans should be up in arms about these serious problems, so contact the Governor’s office to voice your displeasure over this bad behavior. She can be contacted at (405) 521-2342 and also contact your own House and Senate member. The House number is (405) 521-2711, the Senate is (405) 524-0126 and ask for your legislator by name.
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