Spending cuts will cost our state its future (Tulsa World)

By Mubeen Shakir

It seems that our state just can’t balance its books. Recently, it was announced that Oklahoma would face another revenue failure because our state government was unable to accurately project revenue in making budget decisions for its citizens. Just like last year, there will be cuts to essential services and agencies in our state. Now our legislators are proposing new taxes.

Spending cuts are going to cost our state its future. As a result of the budget failure, the state automatically cut $11.1 million dollars from public schools, $5 million from health care and higher education, and $2 million from mental health programs. More and deeper cuts are under consideration to deal with a nearly $600 million budget hole for next year. While state legislators have claimed this failure is not “insurmountable,” they owe the children, the poor and the sick of Oklahoma an apology.

These cuts might be surmountable if Oklahoma did not already rank close to last place in health care outcomes and education spending in the country. These cuts on top of those already imposed last year will further cripple the teachers and schools, weaken rural hospitals that serve those that already have limited access to care, reduce access to mental health care and make it harder for young Oklahomans to afford college. Gov. Mary Fallin has called for increased taxes on services, gasoline and diesel, and cigarettes to provide funding. But these taxes, just like the funding cuts, will disproportionately hurt the state’s poor.

While national politics are more polarized than ever, it is the responsibility of our state government to ensure that it is working for its people. We as Oklahomans must ask ourselves what we want our government to do. Regardless of whether you are a staunch fiscal conservative or social liberal, we should agree that government must exist to provide essential services for its people, giving everyone the opportunity to flourish in society. Just as highways, police and fire protection are essential services provided by the government, so are education and health care.

As our children and future generations suffer the failure and irresponsibility of our legislators and governor, our state continues to dole out corporate subsidies and tax cuts for the rich and privileged in our society. From 2004 to 2016, the top tax rate has been slashed by more than 25 percent, causing an annual revenue loss of $1 billion dollars as projected by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. These revenues would have left the state in a much better position and avoided the destruction of spending cuts.

We must ask ourselves whether we believe it is fair for the wealthiest among us to pay less and less into public spending while everyday Oklahomans pay more out of their wallet every time they go to a service station. Certainly, arguments could be made for the importance of job creation from the top rungs of society, but this type of philosophy should not have to come at the expense of $11 million lost in education funding for Oklahoma’s children.

The University of Oklahoma, where I went to school, now receives only 12 percent of its budget from the state. This is down from 32 percent when David Boren began his tenure as president. Continual cuts of state funding have forced public universities across the state to increase tuition and fees, making it harder for young people to access and afford higher education. If we want Oklahomans who leave for college to return to Oklahoma, or for individuals from other states to come, then we must help them see a future for themselves and their families. They must see strong public education systems and health systems where the next generation of Oklahoma’s children can succeed. The so-called “brain drain” from our state is self-imposed.

If we do not hold our representatives accountable now, we will continue to pay for it and our future will suffer.

I encourage all Oklahomans to call their state legislator, and the governor to demand a government that leaves no one behind.


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