This budget crisis could be an unprecedented disaster for Oklahoma

heads in the sand

Last month came news that Oklahoma City Public Schools will cut 208 classroom teaching positions because of state budget cuts. Tulsa Public Schools is considering reducing or eliminating school buses for all but special education students. Other districts are imposing across-the-board teacher pay cuts to save jobs, shortening the school year, or moving to a 4-day school week. After years of strained education budgets, our public schools are long past cutting the “extras” and asking for sacrifices by adult educators — schools are now forced into cuts where they hurt our children the most.

Schools are in this dire situation even as education has been relatively protected from Oklahoma’s annual budget slashing. Going into this fiscal year (before the mid-year 7 percent cuts), appropriations for the Oklahoma Health Department were down almost 20 percent compared to fiscal year 2009. So when the next round of cuts happened, the Department announced they are eliminating a child abuse prevention program that had been providing education and support services to 700 at-risk families; they are closing five to seven county health department sites, which could make immunizations, epidemic monitoring, and other key health services inaccessible for large parts of rural and small town Oklahoma; they are eliminating the Uncompensated Care Fund, which had been a vital source of revenue for the community health centers serving many of Oklahoma’s large number of uninsured patients.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services also already made deep cuts this year that will reduce services for more than 73,000 Oklahomans. These cuts come at a time when Oklahoma has been widely recognized to be experiencing a mental health crisis even as we provide some of lowest funding for mental health treatment in the nation. Without this up-front treatment, the number of mentally ill Oklahomans in state prisons continues to rise — an outcome with enormous long-term costs to tax dollars and human welfare that could have been avoided with a better budget for mental health.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has received funding increases to make federal court-ordered improvements to our child welfare system. But gains in child welfare are happening alongside deep cuts in every other part of this agency’s mission — which means eliminating hundreds of positions that had been responsible for state and federal safety net programs, protective services for vulnerable seniors and adults with disabilities, and inspections of child care centers and nursing homes. Altogether the Department has cut 1,200 non-child welfare positions, a 23 percent reduction in staff. And like public schools, the Department is past its ability to limit sacrifices to staff; now DHS is making cuts like ending monthly checks for aged, blind, and disabled Oklahomans who may no longer be able to keep up with their food and utility bills.

Following lawmakers’ aborted attempt to kick over 110,000 very low-income parents off Medicaid, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority announced reimbursements to Medicaid providers would be cut 25 percent starting in June unless new revenue is found for the program. The inevitable result of cuts these large will be the closing of more rural hospitals and community health providers and many fewer physicians being willing to accept Medicaid patients. The Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers said a cut of this magnitude could put 269 of the state’s 289 nursing home facilities out of business, and the Oklahoma State Medical Association is urging all of its member doctors to consider dropping out of Medicaid if the cut happens.

In a testimonial for Together Oklahoma, Norman nurse John Rushton gives a stark example of what having fewer Medicaid providers would mean:

I work as an LPN for a small home health agency. We mostly see Medicare patients, but I have had the occasional Medicaid patient. The conditions most Medicaid patients live under should qualify for the description of “squalid.” These are people who have no resources, and no hope whatsoever of becoming independent and purchasing their own healthcare, usually due to a combination of mental, physical and cognitive deficits. I see these patients slip through the cracks all the time, and the result is poor health outcomes – a euphemism for undignified, painful, premature death, that could have been prevented. This is not hyperbole. A middle aged man with congestive heart failure who comes down with a toothache, who can not find an oral surgeon willing to take Medicaid (there aren’t many who do already, my office has struggled to find one for patients of ours), can die very easily when the infection in the abscessed tooth moves into his heart after going several weeks without treatment. The idea that these are the people who should bear the brunt of our budget crisis is utterly inhumane.

All of these examples are limited to what has made the news. The damage of underfunded public services also bubbles up in invisible ways — in the problems that go unaddressed because we never hear about them. What abuses of tax breaks are going undetected because the Oklahoma Tax Commission lost 12 percent of its funding since 2009? What mismanagement of taxpayer dollars goes unnoticed because the State Auditor was cut 30 percent? What polluting of our air and water has gone unseen because the Department of Environmental Quality has lost 30 percent of its state funds? What preventable disasters are not being prevented because the Fire Marshal was cut 29 percent? Remember, these are only the cuts already in place before this year’s mid-year cuts and before next year’s $1.3 billion hole.

A recent Oklahoman editorial commented that, even amid this historic budget disaster, “tax increases are a nonstarter at the Legislature.” That’s certainly been the way that political winds have blown in the Legislature, but Oklahomans of all people should know that winds can change. With a disaster of this magnitude blowing down our doors, lawmakers must change their approach to the budget. We have plenty of reasonable revenue options available; the only wrong answer is not to do something.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gene Perry joined OK Policy in January 2011. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism. Gene also serves on the board of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network, is a trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and has chaired the communications advisory committee for the State Priorities Partnership, a nationwide network of state fiscal policy think tanks. He lives in Tulsa with his wife Kara Joy McKee, who is a Tulsa City Councilor.

29 thoughts on “This budget crisis could be an unprecedented disaster for Oklahoma

  1. Not to worry, the last thing to be cut will be the sports programs. Academics have taken a back seat to the really important part of school for a long time now.

  2. Cut all athletic programs. Focus on basic education and by the way, MUSIC helps improve learning. Cut administration cost not our teachers.

  3. Why is it the only response is to raise taxes? An independent AUDIT is what we need most. Transparency in the Ok legislature is the real non-starter. I am not saying a tax hike would be wrong….just asking someone to show me where the first $50 went, before asking for another $100.

  4. I love how the first thing to point out is athletics and administration in schools being cut. The point is why are they having to cut in the first place. If you cut athletics then many times you cut the reason the children want to come to school. If children do not come to school then funding goes down even more for academics and you lose community support. Who votes on bond issues? THE COMMUNITY! If you cut administration costs then teachers have to take on those duties which pulls them from the classroom. How is pulling teachers away from instruction time to deal with policy enforcement and mandates helpful? Most school districts started cutting administrative costs and scaling back athletics since the funding reduction in 2009. Schools are just too humble to pat themselves on the back for doing it and most of you making these suggestions would not recognize the sacrifice anyway. You would just move on to the next witch hunt. Blame the people who control the finances not those who manage the scraps they receive. Wise up and educate yourself before you make statements about education.

  5. I totally believe in transparency for our legislators. Those pensions for this legislators who do not diserve them because they didn’t even put in the time on the job yet they voted it in. Now Oklahomans have to suffer Mary fallin will get 176,000 in retirement??? I thought legislators served the people,all they want to do is attack public education and the poor. Why don’t our news channels tell us about some of the bills being introduced? There are a lot of questions. The legislature has cut the education budget I believe since 2009. O yes the lottery. Was supposed to help but not when you are cutting state funding also. Ok I’m done. I am so frustrated.

  6. Stop the raises that the politicians get! Don’t finish the Indian Center on I-35 & I-40. The $245,000,000 to renovate the capital building…STOP IT!!! Put the money where it’s needed……for our children’s education, health care, mental health! Wake up! If something is to be done about this waste, tell your representative that things have to change! Just talking about it in a forum is not enough. Write, call, visit the representative of your district. I am writing every day & calling every other day! Make a pest of yourself, whatever you have to do but DO IT! Thank you.

  7. This “disaster” is a slow motion train wreck that has been happening for 10 years! Starting with the housing market implosion, which any intelligent person paying attention should have been able to see coming by late 2005 or 2006,the Oklahoma legislature and governors have shown absolutely no fiscal foresight! They make bad decisions followed by bad decisions with no concern for what those decisions will do to the tax base and tax collections as if they cannot make the connection between what the state collects and how much is needed to fund all the state programs. If they can’t pay the bills they need to quit giving so much to their “good ol’ boys” and at least take a peek at what might be coming in the future.

  8. Oklahoma is close to the bottom in pay for all of our public servants except one class, elected officials. We are 49th nationally in teacher pay and 15th in legislative pay. If the law was amended requiring legislative pay to be on par with teacher pay on a national comparison basis, our teacher crisis would end within a week.

  9. Why aren’t we taking the powers that be to task for an out right lie to get the lottery passed? They used the school & kids saying it will fund them. However a large chunk goes to higher education. That should pay for its self! If it all went to public ed. K-12th grade we wouldn’t be having a problem!!!

  10. Having moved here from a state that was ran very effectively, I will say that this state suck so bad. It’s funny how people that were born here think it’s awesome, but people that have experienced life outside this shit hole know that it’s the worst state in the country. Everything sucks, list one thing that’s worth living here for? Oh you cant , suprising.

  11. Oksucks, you ask one good thing about Oklahoma? The people! I noticed you didn’t list your home state. You just like to throw rocks and run? You don’t like it here… MOVE!

  12. I’ve lived in Oklahoma for the past 60 year and have always been proud of our great Syste. When vacationing in other states I was happy to say yes I have an Okie accent and very proud of it.

    That said our current legislative body has bankrupt our state and appear to not be terribly bothered by the wide path of destruction. Those who are and will suffer the most are the elderly, our children unfortunate enough to be born into poverty, disabled adults and children, and now the population of working individuals that was once referred to as the middle class.

    Let me recap: Deregulate education, close hospitals and nursing homes, limit if not completely eliminate medical and mental health care for children and chronically mentally ill, defund community programs that have filled the gap in health care, hot meals, and on and on ( these are too numerous to mention).

    Recently one of our Republican Senators stated that we need to adopt families in need. Serious? What planet is he living on to think there are enough families who are financially solvent to adopt all the families who are broke, losing their housing and desperate.

    At this same time we have spent an undisclosed amount of money filing frivolous law suits to discriminate against same sex marriage when the Supreme Court has already ruled. Spending large sums of money on renovating the Capital to include a reflection pool. Wasting large sums of money to keep a monument of the Ten Commandments at the capital. Taking money from the rainy day fund to fund research on fracking when the research has already been done. We just need to accept the reality of what happens when you allow other states to transport their water to Oklahoma to be pumped into our soil.

    The list of stupid is as has stupid does is near endless. Oklahoma is the blunt of some comedian on a daily basis.

    All the while ( and look it up if you doubt it ) the department heads of nearly every State agency got a raise. The Director of Mental Health received a 30% increase but so did many other State Agency Directors. I think it was the Attorney General who got the largest pay increase and I need to double check my facts on that. Might have been OSBI Director. Sorry if I misspoke. But the point being why is any Director getting a raise.

    At this same time who is profiting from private prisons in Oklahoma? Oklahoma has the highest rate of incarcerating women in the Nation and nearly the highest for men.

    We’ve spent millions on the so called prescription drug epidemic. I guess we have to justify the Hummers and the Kool toys the DEA has.

    Legalize marijuana period before the Indians do. Look at Colorado. Every possible measurement of success is happening. Expanding education, expanding DHS and Medicaid. This list of positive results in Colorado is also near endless.

    People have sought mind altering experienced since the beginning of time. With legal access to quality marijuana the need to take pain pills and anxiety medication goes way down. We are so backwards in our thinking. We arrest Doctors for prescribing medication that has a street value and poor desperate people abuse it and kill themselves or flood the ER costing additional millions. No one in the history of marijuana use ever died or killed anyone because they used marijuana.

    In Oklahoma our moral leaders ( truthfully morally bankrupt leaders ) continue to waste money, time, and energy on trying to legislate morality. Way to go guys. As a result my nephew died while huffing some inhalant because it was accessible. Our children are smoking bath salts and dieing. Huffing gasoline is instant brain damage as is huffing paint, white out, computer aresole, freon and on and on.

    But let’s take the high road and make sure they don’t smoke marijuana cause we all saw Reefer Madness in the 50’s. Wake up Oklahoma before it’s too late and you or your child doesn’t wake up.

    Even if marijuana didn’t have the medical qualities it is reported to have I pray my don chooses marijuana over alcohol and all the other deadly stuff I mentioned already.

    Willie Nelson is but one of millions of people who have smoked pot their entire lives and are living to tell about it.

    We need to get off our high horse and smell the coffee. Why does anyone really object to the choices a woman makes regarding her body and her inability to mother a child when we don’t seem to care about the baby once it is born and living in squalor.

    Every single person who can walk crawl or otherwise needs to vote this election. Enough. We must vote Democrat and empower our congress to fix Oklahoma before it really is too late. A strong empowered Congress can impeach or at the very least neutralize our Governor and maybe muzzle her as well.

    Yes I feel defeated. Despite my ranting I have such an overwhelming sense of sadness. I fear we in Oklahoma are about to experience a life that may prove to be far worse than the dust bowl days or the Great Depression.

    A life that none of us could ever concieve or imagine. Desperate people do desperate things. Benjamin Franklin once said while in France during the French Revolution that every country needs a revolution of the people every 100 years or so to keep the government honest. I don’t see this as far fetched and out there as I did a few years back.

    I’m sure I’ve read too many science fiction books in my life. What would stop the masses from simply saying enough and to start taking what they want. The rich, wealthy elite are going to protect their valuables how?

    Our law enforcement are part of the under paid and under valued masses that might just resolve to a revolution.

    No the answer needs to be swift and thoughtful and full of compassion for those already suffering. If our elderly and our children are not safe then no one is.

    We must stand up and be heard. Come election we must vote out every Republican. Today we need only one party working together to find solutions. We cannot afford to waste one minute arguing between parties. In this same vain vote out every Democrat who has done nothing or has aligned themselves with the greedy politicians who are only looking out for themselves and their unimaginably wealthy associates. I’d say friends but these kind of people don’t have friends.

    Last I turn it over to God. Thy will be done.

  13. The sad thing is that the cuts are necessary. The money is not there. Period.

    My problem is that when oil is good, our legislature is too ignorant to SAVE MONEY! They seem to think its never going to stop rolling in.
    Oklahoma Law Makers need to do what South Dakota did. When South Dakota had a boom in Shale production…. THEY SAVED IT.
    Now, they have a $3 Billion rainy day fund, and were broke. The energy sector is our bread & butter, but until we find a way to lure in more technology based businesses we will be dependent on the price of oil, so we need to figure out how it works (Highs & Lows) and prepare.

    As a republican, I am ashamed of our elected officials. They spend like there is no tomorrow, yet education has ranked at or near the bottom for decades. They need to look elsewhere before gashing education. The State of Oklahoma has 616 Commissions/Committees/Boards, full of overpaid Bureaucrats. Lets starts the cuts at the top before we start cutting the people who are actually working for their pay. Some school district consolidation needs to be considered as well. It won’t work for all but it will for some.

    Education reform has to be on the top of the list. But, a blanket approach will not work. We actually need to put some thought into it.

  14. How about we suggest that our legislators take a paycut? Elected officials should make the median salary of their constituents and not a penny more. I’m pretty sure that if their salary was based on our salaries, they might be a little more motivated to actually REPRESENT us.

  15. We should organize a march no the capitol. Ring the building and no one goes in or out until the legislature starts to, and succeeds, in fixing the budget problems. Then we march on the governor’s mansion and help Mattress Mary move out. They are all so indebted to big corporations that they do not care about the overall welfare of the state.

  16. I think taxing Gross receipts for political campaigns and political action committees should be a first step. I think even personal funds used in a campaign should be included in this Gross receipts tax so politicians don’t have the chance to funnel money to their campaigns through a “consulting” avenue.

  17. I have been thinking of moving out of Oklahoma. I have lived here since 1983 and find it the most crooked state I have ever lived in. Just sayin’. Think it is time to go….

  18. Interesting to see these comments. I have lived in Oklahoma for 4 years and am stunned by how inefficient and ineffective this “red state” is in managing it’s assets and bringing in new business.

    To some extent, but without the vitriole, I agree with “oksucks” assessment of Oklahoma. I have lived in numerous other states from east coast to west and never have I seen such poor infrastructure, schools and government. YOU, as a citizen of this state, pay a tax on food (a food tax…really????), you pay tolls on a roads that are horrendous to drive on, you get little for your tax dollars and yet, you keep on voting the same way over and over and over and over again.

    This is what happens when you and your political leaders invest in one source of revenue for the state…oil, gas and energy….while being totally disinterested in proactively bringing in new business sectors like technology or the numerous other business sectors your leadership should be courting.

    And, to make it worse, your leadership gives mind numbing tax incentives to the oil and gas industry…so, you got what you paid for.

  19. We are all missing one very critical piece of information here. The Panama Papers may not ever directly incriminate any of our politicians, but they point to the very reason why the poor and the disenfranchised in Oklahoma and around the nation are under attack by the political parties. There has been a concerted effort among those with power to manipulate and rig the system so that they can stash trillions of dollars in assets that they have stolen from our economy, all so they can avoid paying taxes, so they can hide illegal funds, bribes taken and given, and any other illegal or shady activity they could manufacture to increase their income at the expense of the average working American who is just trying to earn a living and provide for their children. There may never be any Oklahoma or American of vast power implicated in this leak, but how many other obscure legal firms are there around the world that are diligently engaged in assisting the wealthy in their effort to amass more wealth and secretly hide it from taxation? Our future, our children and grandchildren’s futures are all sitting offshore in some secret entity that was set up for the sole purpose of evading tax obligations, and depriving our cities, states and nations of our assets, our pensions, our educations and our very livelihoods, all done legally by the very people who are running governments around the world. Stop electing the crooks.

  20. I grew up in Oklahoma, paid for my education to become a teacher and learned very quickly upon graduation that I would never be able to survive by myself and have the quality living I desired. All the teachers complaining about their salaries should do what I did and move 167 miles south and get an immediate $10,000 raise. It is amazing the amount of money shoveled through the casinos, the scalped tickets to college and pro athletic events and even at the state fair, yet a tax hike is “outrageous”. Just a couple hours south and the salary improves, the roads improve and the facilities are incredible. New classrooms, new busses with AC, plenty of supples, upper level courses and don’t even get me started about the quality athletic facilities available to HS kids. Texas also does not have a grocery/ food tax. Also no state income tax. Stop complaining and just move to where there are more jobs for teachers than there are applicants.

  21. Shameful and embarrassing. There is NO excuse for this, none. Our governor and legislative body sold out a long time ago. They don’t care about the people. It’s about that almighty dollar they can grab for their own pocket. As stated above, this state has a problem in every department. Even our elected leaders, and I use that work loosely will not even return a phone call to the people they represent. If you do get a phone call, they duck and defer, won’t give straight answers. And, for a real debacle, just look to the self serving, unbridled Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. ODOT will need boatloads of budget money just to come behind their path of destruction for state roads, etc. Forget about fixing existing roads and bridges, let’s build new roads with ODOT mopping up as directed by OTA. The gas tax alone that OTA receives would put a dent in the state budget deficit. Who needs this loop around OKC? I urge OTA be dismantled to stop their drain on the state’s resources. I agree the traffic situation is a nightmare mostly due to poorly designed roads…….could that be because “they” hire buddies and pad their lobbying pockets instead of putting projects out to bid and actually researching the success of a bidder? Before too long, with all the cuts, layoffs, rising utilities, taxes, health care, food, shelter….nobody will need roads as they won’t be able to afford to drive anywhere. It’s a spiraling nightmare. Yes, impeach Fallin, do a forensic audit and boot out all the crooks and cronies then we may have a chance. Education is critical and they treat it like a budget sucking vampire. Hall of Shame on Facebook, get involved in reclaiming this Great State.

  22. Remember when they wanted teachers to carry guns? Haven’t heard much about that lately. Probably wasn’t a good idea if you’re going to get ’em all fired up.

  23. i have lived in many different states as well. I traveled quite a bit in the military. It is aweful that Oklahomans keep voting against there own interest just for the sake of party loyalty, I am not sure what is going to have to happen for the governor and others to see that what they have been doing is not working and is destroying this state…

  24. Thank you so much for this thorough report. I knew the situation was bad, but this is worse than most people think. This crisis will affect everyone, rich or poor, we just haven’t realized it yet.

  25. These problems could be drastically reduced by getting rid of administrators. Each county could have one superintendent and each school could have one principal. Assistants could be allowed according to number of students enrolled. There is no need for every school, no matter how small, to have a superintendent. These guys are paid the really big bucks. Let them oversee the principals in each school in their respective counties.
    Ultimately, the people who are responsible for this mess, because they base everything on potential income from oil, should have to take major pay and benefit cuts. They brought it on by poor budgeting and management; they should also suffer some of the losses. Senators, representatives, and yes even the governor should all take pay cuts and benefit reductions. All those paid for life, for a couple of terms of service, or disservice as the case may be, should be removed. They should get jobs like every other unemployed person. These free rides by political freeloaders need to stop.
    Teachers invest much more time than any politicians do but we have to work ourselves to the ground and hope to retire a couple of years before we die. We should qualify for more benefits than congress does for their pitance of time on the job! At least we provide a much needed service, and actually earn our money and the poor benefits allotted to us.

  26. Administrators should look at spending more in the classroom than sports.. One person golf team traveling with paid coach and auto. Not even real golfer. Just someone who enrolled and wants to.. Not very effective budgeting on part of the school. True observation.

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