A license to wait (The Tulsa Voice)

By Barry Friedman

On 21st Street between Southwest Boulevard and Chandler Park, along this testosterone-filled road of salvage yards, warehouses and surplus supply stores, sits the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.

It is an unremarkable building, as it should be. The air conditioner, if working at all, is struggling to keep up with the July heat. Two rows of plastic chairs, one against the wall, one against the window, outline the lobby. My father and I take a number from the bakery-style ticket machine and find seats next to two complaining men. 

“Shit, I waited three hours yesterday,” says one.

“Hell, I don’t even know what I’m doing here,” says the other. “I’m from Illinois, lived in California. They know I got a license.”

“What number for you, pal?” the first guy asks my dad.


The red neon counter on the wall reads 67.

“Dad, I’ll be right back.”

“I know I have to wait out there,” I say to the man behind the counter in the main room, “but I wanted to make sure this is where you come to replace lost licenses?”

“Yes it is,” he says pleasantly. “Be with you as soon as we can.”  

“I bet they have only one guy back there,” my father complains as I return.

Moments later, that one guy is standing over me.

Listen, I couldn’t help notice that you were carrying a copy of a birth certificate. We don’t accept those here. I have to get back, but didn’t want you waiting just to be disappointed.”


“We have the original. Thanks for checking.”

People keep entering. Some stand along the window, some brave the heat outside, some head back to their cars. 

The indicator coughs.

68 …

Two men enter—they look like father and son; then a woman; a young couple; another couple; a man with a bicycle; a man, lopsided, in pain. The place is now uncomfortably crowded.

69 …

“Government, huh?” the guy asks my father, pointing to all the people waiting.

“What number?” he asks a man by the window.

“I got 101 yesterday. They got to 90 and said they were closing, said to come back.”

“You ain’t never going to be seen by these people. They’re probably all in the back, eating lunch.”

It’s 10:30.

“They’re not eating lunch,” I mumble.

“What?” he asks.


70 … 71 

It occurs to me this is one of the things that happens when you cut spending and shrink government on the way to drowning it in a bathtub. You run out of folding chairs and force people to stand in hot, crowded lobbies. The Oklahoma legislature recently refused to cancel the tax cut this year, including the tax breaks given to oil producers who don’t want or need it—even though the state was running a deficit, even though we had toraid the Rainy Day Fund, even though we cut Medicaid, even though we could have accepted Affordable Care Act money, even though

If you want to understand this bait and switch, read David Blatt (nobody in the state covers it better) over at Oklahoma Policy Institute.

The reality in recent times is, in good times as well as bad, Oklahoma can’t balance its budget. Our state tax system is no longer generating the revenue needed to pay for basic public services. 

Back at Public Safety …

“Damn taxes are too high,” the guy says to nobody in particular.

“They just cut,” I try to say—

“—Damn straight,” says the other man next to him. “This is bullshit!”

72 … 73 

“Oh, please, they just cut your taxes,” I mumble louder, “and it made things worse. Besides, look around. There’s no state money being wasted here. There aren’t enough chairs, for Chrissakes.”

“Taxes are too high.”

“Look, you can bitch about high taxes or bitch about the wait to get a driver’s license, but not both. Pick one.”

“Government takes too much of my damn money.”

“Well, there’s your answer.”

And here’s your reward.

Taken together, the two tax rate reductions will pump $237 million into the private sector and serve as “an important tool for job creation and economic development,” said Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican elected in 2010.

Economic development? Really, governor—job creation? David, you were saying?

The cut to the top income tax rate will provide minimal benefit to all but the wealthiest Oklahomans. The average middle-income household will see its taxes lowered $31 a year, or $2.60 per month. Forty percent of households will get no benefit at all. Yet the cut will add some $50 million to the budget hole for the upcoming fiscal year and $150 million in 2017, when our budget outlook is likely to look equally grim.

Lovely. Thirty-one dollars for the year? Shall we invest in technology stocks, open a business, or just take the kids out for burgers? 

It’s debatable whether cutting taxes does much good, anyway.

Analysis of six decades of data found that top tax rates “have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth.” However, the study found that reductions of capital gains taxes and top marginal rate taxes have led to greater income inequality. Past studies cited in the report have suggested that a broad-based tax rate reduction can have “a small to modest, positive effect on economic growth” or “no effect on economic growth.”

Bernie Sanders, line one.

74 … 75 

“Government,” the guy says, “is by its nature inefficient. They should let private industry take this over.”

“Inefficient, really? The government sends out about 60 million social security payments every month, and you know how many are lost? Hey, dad, your social security check ever been even late?”

“Never. Deposited in the account on the fourth, like clockwork.”

(You would have thought we had rehearsed it.)

“You want efficiency,” I say to the guy, “that’s efficiency. As for private industry, it’s done such a bang-up job in prisons and classrooms, I can’t wait to see their work at the DMV. And, remember, government doesn’t make a profit off taxpayers; Halliburton does.”

He leans forward in his chair, shakes his head disgustedly, starts to say something, points his finger, decides against it, leans back in his chair as he crosses his arms, then leans forward again to say something before waving me off. 

No rush. We’re going to be here for hours. 

76 … 77



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