It shouldn’t be this hard to get something done to fund basic services (Capitol Update)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

As a non-voting participant in the process, from a distance and only on the issues in which I am involved, it’s not my place to pass judgment on the recent legislative session. But most of the commentaries on the productivity of this year’s session have been more positive than negative. It can be fairly described as historic. For the first time in 28 years legislators were able to pass a tax increase. It has taken that long to overcome the 75 percent threshold of SQ 640 that was the backlash from the ruinous economic downturn in the 1980s.

But think for a minute about what it took to get that done. It should not take the threat of thirty to forty thousand teachers leaving their classrooms and literally occupying the Capitol for weeks to get something done. Now, the backlash, led by Tom Coburn, has already begun. It will take maximum effort plus a lot of money to save the gains achieved. And just filing the petition may cause irreparable harm by stopping the funding until the election.

This is not how a representative democracy — or a republic, whichever term you prefer — should operate. It’s a shame that legislators did not submit a repeal or amendment of SQ 640 to a vote of the people. They missed an opportunity, while the wounds are fresh, to return to a system that allows the majority of the people’s elected representatives to represent them. Had they done so, at least the sweat and money that will be spent by citizens and advocacy groups to save what is already acknowledged by many as not enough could have also gone toward a more permanent fix for the problem.

The expenditure of so much effort just to continue inadequately funding that which is the most popular expenditure of state government —public schools — does not bode well for other needs of a forward leaning state. We may well fall into the habit of trying to slowly fund the needs of the mentally ill and addicted, the elderly and disabled, public safety, higher education and infrastructure, all deep in a fiscal hole now, from “growth money” that accumulates in years the economy grows. It will sound like a lot of money, millions per year. But needs usually keep pace with growth which makes progress difficult and slow. From where we are starting now, “slow” will likely put Oklahoma further behind.

Other things, good or bad depending on your perspective, happened this session. Repair of our thoughtlessly harsh criminal justice system began with some very positive changes but didn’t change enough. At the same time, our judges and civil justice system were left alone to litigate cases fairly on a case by case basis without the Legislature’s thumb on the scale. Pro-gun and anti-gay legislation was passed. Legislating is always a mixed bag. When the result is more positive than negative, it’s a good year.

All this is to think about while we are electing around 40 or more new Oklahoma legislators, beginning June 26th.

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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.

One thought on “It shouldn’t be this hard to get something done to fund basic services (Capitol Update)

  1. and what did we achieve ? harsher taxes on the already over taxed ? did it fund core services ? like up dated materials , or technology, that ever child should now be learning ? did it replace ware out texts and replace them with up to date knowledge instead of books that are out dated and far behind ? did it give recurrence, that infrastructure will meet the needs of tomorrows needs ? NO ! all is did was aline pockets with fillers of money and higher pay and pensions, and passed off as education , when in reality this is not . 33 million dollars was was a cry from whats really needed . then you achieved covering up problems that existed within departments , 150 million gone , 230million gone , a wreck in the tourism department . and Gods only know what we will find in education , possibly much more , but none of you take credit for this, now do you ? then Fallin turns around and signed another bill, related to your 10 commandments and tried to over ride the Oklahoma Supreme court when this was already decided. then she signs a bill on adoption , which is based on religion and discrimination , and you call that a achievement . I call this a slap in the face for oklahoma . you might be proud of what you think your achieved, but alot of oklahoma is not .

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