Christiaan Mitchell is a lawyer who holds masters degrees in philosophy and education. He lives and works in Bartlesville.
A couple of weeks ago Williams announced that it was cutting approximately 100 jobs in Tulsa. This announcement was front-page news and sent ripples of anxiety through the entire community.
Can you imagine the uproar from the business community if these jobs had been lost due to a policy decision at the state Legislature? If the folks down in Oklahoma City had passed a bill that would, on its own, destroy 100 decent middle-class jobs in Tulsa, we could expect a full court press attack by the Chamber of Commerce. And any legislator who had his or her fingerprints on the measure would not be long for the statehouse.
Ten days after the Williams cuts hit the news, the Oklahoma City Public School System announced that it would be cutting 208 teaching positions due to state funding shortfalls. Over 200 decent middle-class jobs have been lost in Oklahoma City alone as a direct result of the Legislature’s unwillingness to pay its bills. More districts are now following suit in announcing layoffs of administrative staff and teachers. Yet the response from the business community has been muted, at best.
We are used to talking about education cuts in terms of how they are going to impact our children’s futures and the long-term economic impacts of an educationally crippled workforce. But the focus on these very important and real problems can cause us to miss the short-term economic impact these cuts are going to have.
Oklahoma City Public Schools is cutting jobs to save $8 million in teacher salaries and benefits. That is $8 million not going into the pockets of Oklahoma City families; $8 million not being spent on groceries, or gas, or movie tickets; $8 million not going to pay for a car when Junior turns 16, buying refrigerators, or paying mortgages; $8 million not doing the economic work that keeps our economy functioning.
Statewide, we have already seen millions taken out of the state’s economy due to this year’s revenue failures, just in cuts to common education. Higher education has lost $56 million this year, and the overall state budget has been cut by over $400 million. More and deeper cuts are expected in the next year.
In all of the Republican clamor over “runaway government spending,” we too often fail to ask just where all this money is going. While a relatively small portion of it winds up overseas, the vast majority ends up in the pocket of hardworking Americans. Federal, state, and local governments are some of the largest consumers of goods and services in the country. In 2016 the federal government alone will pump over $10 billion into Oklahoma’s economy as a regular part of its procurement and granting process.
Of course, we are told that the legislature is making these cuts because they have to. Government revenues are down, we are facing a $1.3 billion shortfall, and so something has to give. But with numerous reasonable ways to close the budget gap, it is pretty hard to see the failure to seek new revenues as anything other than a choice.
So we should remember that while our economy is suffering from a collapse in oil prices (and our failure to prepare for this all-but-certain eventuality), government cuts don’t save anybody much money. Instead, they squeeze money out of local economies so that our legislators can claim that they are being fiscally responsible in the face of their own unwillingness to put Oklahoma’s well-being ahead of their own political careers.
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