A State Question parable

Say that you’re a lower-income working-class family and the house you’re living in is falling into disrepair. There are cracks in some of the walls, parts of the backyard fence have fallen in, and you know that pretty soon you’re going to need a new roof.  You’re already spending $1,000 every month on your mortgage, utilities, upkeep and repairs, and that amount has mostly been rising, yet it doesn’t seem to be enough to keep up with what needs to get done. When you ask around the neighborhood, you discover that all your neighbors are spending considerably more than you are on their homes.

So how do you solve your housing problem?  You could adopt a plan where you decide that you will spend no less on housing than the average expenditures of the six other homes on your block. After all, if your neighbors can afford it, why not you? You’ll give yourself, say, three years to boost your housing-related spending to the neighborhood average; from then on, every year you’ll get a report from your neighbors on what they spent on housing, and however much they’ve increased their spending, that’s how much you’ll increase yours. And to make sure you stick to the plan, once you agree to it, the money will automatically be withdrawn from your bank and deposited in an account that can only be used for housing expenses. Let’s call this the Home Ownership Protection and Expansion (HOPE) plan.

It’s pretty certain that before long, under this plan, you’ll have a much nicer and safer house.  Your improved living conditions will address various risks to your family’s health and well-being that can follow from living in sub-standard housing and your investments will boost the long-term value of your home.

The HOPE plan sounds great, and your first instinct would likely be to adopt it. But my guess is that before you did, you’d look carefully at the rest of your family budget. You’d be reminded that you’re  struggling to keep up not only with your housing costs, but with all your basic family needs – food, clothing, medical care, child care, car maintenance. The cost of all these expenditure items are growing, too, but now that you’ve committed to HOPE, almost every additional dollar you earn is available only for housing.  You realize that you need to save more for your kids’ college and retirement, and your parents need help with the costs of assisted living, but last year two of your neighbors  decided on major upgrades, so this year your housing budget is going to grow even more rapidly. When the economy hits a downturn and your company cuts back your hours, reducing your household income by fifteen percent, HOPE dictates that your housing budget is still going to increase.

To me, it doesn’t make sense to set the housing budget without any consideration to your overall household budget or your family income. It doesn’t make sense to let your housing budget be determined strictly by how much your neighbors spend. And it sure doesn’t make any sense at all to ensure that you’ll always be living in a freshly-painted house with new appliances if you can’t pay for groceries and your car has been repossessed.

This isn’t to say that there are not valid questions to be raised about why your housing is in disrepair, or why you’re failing to make ends meet, or what you can do to get your income aligned with what it truly costs to get by. You can commit to developing a real plan to address the problem. But to stake your future on the plan we’ve laid out isn’t hope, it’s dangerous folly.

For our issue brief on SQ 744 and related information, please click here.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

5 thoughts on “A State Question parable

  1. I would add that, at a time when educators need desperately to educate on the whole community’s role in a child’s total education in order to avoid educators being the only ones held responsible for failures of learning, it’s really short-sighted for educators to advocate beggaring the community for an advancement that will be undermined by that community’s prolonged decay.

  2. If you cut back on the fast food , you buy because you have to work all the time, 2 or 3 jobs, to make ends meet. Buying a new car every other year because its new. You keep up with the Jones’s all the time which is real costly, but you let the house go, no one see’s it, so there is no reason to keep up with maintenance. EDUCATION is the key to jobs, prosperity and an increasing tax base. Oklahoma has some of the toughest teacher standards, and lawmakers want to toughen them, then there will be no teachers. What they really want is to privatize the whole system, and then YOU have to pay MORE to educate your children.

  3. Here is where your analogy clearly misses. In fact, you are not in charge of the amount that is spent on your house. In fact, you have one vote among thousands to elect one person of 101 who will decide what is spent on your house. Your children are freezing and wet due to poor maintenance of the house, and year after year fall behind the children in nearby homes. And the money isn’t being spent on necessary items like healthcare and food. In fact, the majority of the 101 representatives vote to give 5 billion dollars in tax exemptions. They pay themselves higher salaries than the surrounding states. They pass tax cut after tax cut, knowing it will mean drastic cuts in education. The question is, do you force those in charge of the budget to make decisions that reflect your priorities? Or do you continue to allow your children to sleep in substandard housing? Do you throw up your hands and say “we will never have any more money, so we should just let the house fall down?” Or do you start forcing the 101 representatives to make decisions that recognize the need for a decent foundation, i.e., house. Send representatives a message–vote for 744.

  4. exactly HOW are YOU forcing anything? you had a chance to propose that “forcing” in 744 and explicitly refused to, choosing instead to foist this fruitless argument as a defense. you had a chance to include repeal of our tax limitation amendment and/or all the tax credits and lobbyist/politician goodies you claim will solve the problem on the same ballot or in the same question and you didn’t. why? because you knew the support wasn’t there and it would kill any chances for 744. so don’t attack those of us who don’t want the fallout of your own failure. you advocate letting the rest of the house fall in so you can fix up one room, which, as the Tulsa World pointed out this weekend, will lead to those “representatives” taking actions that will undercut exactly what you’re trying to do–http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectid=261&articleid=20101024_61_0_Isawaf807138. no thank you.

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