Building a new momentum (Capitol Update)

State Treasurer Randy McDaniel announced that gross receipts to the state in May were down 14.1 percent from the previous May, a drop of $150.5 million following a drop of 30 percent in April. Presumably, these declines were already accounted for with actions taken by legislators to shore up the FY 20 budget before they tackled the $1.3 billion shortfall in the FY 21 budget that begins July 1.

It seemed for a moment, after the past couple legislative sessions, that Oklahoma and its improving economy were ready to begin moving up from near the bottom in ways measuring quality of life. The Legislature raised some revenue, and the teachers got a raise. There was talk, by a few, of passing Medicaid expansion thereby claiming our own $1 billion a year in federal dollars for health care.

Progress would be gradual, as politically palatable to the “haves” as possible, but we seemed to be ready. Now this: A pandemic and a dislocation in the oil and gas industry bottoming out the economy. For now, we are back to holding our own — from our usual spot near the bottom. The Legislature did a good job under extremis, borrowing and moving money around as they plugged holes to limit the damage.

What comes to mind, though, are the words we have been hearing from across the country the past few days: “We’re tired of being tired.” The words reflect longstanding disappointment and anger, mixed with hope that someone will step forward to help carry the burden. Unfortunately, when the economy turns downward those already suffering, especially due to circumstance of birth, suffer the most.

Whether the momentum we seemed to have before the pandemic would have brought them along, we do not know. But things have changed, and a new momentum could carry us farther. There are citizens organizing to help pay rent and buy food, to provide legal and counseling help to avoid homelessness and to provide mental and physical healthcare and spiritual nourishment. And importantly, to make change. Among the opportunities, there is a chance to get Medicaid expansion through the ballot during the upcoming June 30 election.

If citizens persist in doing our part, our leaders will rise to the occasion. The next time the economic cycle turns downward Oklahoma should start from a place near the top, not near the bottom.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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