State in Dire Distress (okeducationtruths)

Oklahoma has one of the most beautiful state flags. According to Wikipedia:

The Osage shield is covered by two symbols of peace: the Plains-style ceremonial pipe representing Native Americans, and the olive branch representing European Americans. Six golden brown crosses, Native American symbols for stars, are spaced on the shield. The blue field is inspired by the Choctaw flag adopted by the tribe in 1860 and carried though the American Civil War. The blue field also represents devotion. The shield surmounted by the calumet and olive branch represents defensive or protective warfare, showing a love of peace by a united people.

In our schools each day, after students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they recite the Oklahoma flag salute:

I salute the Flag of the State of Oklahoma: Its symbols of peace unite all people.

Well, I hate to be a downer, but I don’t think our people are terribly united right now, unless it’s when the governor is featured on the Kiss Cam at a Thunder game.


This is the sixth legislative session since Mary Fallin became governor in 2011. According to the state’s own Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity:

We know that Oklahoma experienced 907 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2015, 585 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2014 and 109 in 2013.

While we understand that Oklahoma has historically experienced some level of seismicity, we know that the recent rise in earthquakes cannot be entirely attributed to natural causes. Seismologists have documented the relationship between wastewater disposal and triggered seismic activity. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has determined that the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.

While the state literally crumbles beneath us, the state’s finances have metaphorically turned to dust during the same time-span. School districts in north Texas are actively recruiting our teachers from a panel van just this side of Gainesville and a promise of candy, or a $15,000 raise – your choice. Rural nursing homes are in danger of closing. Have no fear, though. There’s cake for you on the fourth floor at the Capitol.

mmm cake

Today is May 8. Our elected leaders have three weeks to implement a budget. We have promises to fill the $1.3 billion hole in the state’s budget. The governor has offered ideas. The House Speaker has defensivelydiscussed the math involved with running a state. So far, though, nothing has happened. Last Thursday, the House adjourned for the weekend before noon.

House Republicans can find the time to choose a new House Speaker (for 2017), but we don’t have a budget. By the way, what happens if the Republicans elected to open seats this fall want someone else? Why don’t they get a say in this? That just seems strange to me.

Two elected statewide officials who seem to understand our predicament are State Treasurer Ken Miller and State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones. Last week, Miller posted the following message.

Ken Miller FTWYou can expand the image to read Miller’s screed in its entirety, but here’s one of the middle paragraphs that resonates with me:

The long and short of it is Oklahoma needs more recurring revenue. This is a common sense conclusion evidenced by years of general appropriations bills that included hundreds of millions in nonrecurring revenue, in good times and bad, that falsely propped up budgets and exacerbated the current problem.

He mentions also his doubt that state leaders have the political resolve to roll back tax cuts. That’s why we’re going nowhere fast. There’s a complete lack of will to do something. It’s my idea or nothing. As one of my colleagues keeps saying with regard to the current situation for school districts, we’re dealing with a menu of misery.

Jones, on the other hand, isn’t as kind to his fellow leaders:

While much of our funding problems have been caused by the downturn in the price of oil and natural gas, the bigger problems have been caused by politicians looking out for their own political futures and not the future of our kids and grand kids.

When you say tax cut, people’s eyes get huge. They don’t care if you’re cutting someone else’s taxes and not yours. They just love the concept. They don’t think about the fact that a cut in taxes also means a cut in services. I’ve said over and over this year that there’s nothing conservative or wise about letting core state services crumble all around us. That would be education, health care, corrections, and transportation. I don’t even care about how you rank them. They’re all in trouble.

Meanwhile, one idea to generate revenue is to end those pesky tax credits for low-income Oklahomans. After all, they’re the ones who caused this mess, right?

Oklahoma offers three modest tax credits that primarily support working families. These are the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is designed to encourage work; the Sales Tax Relief Credit, which supports basic nutrition and helps alleviate Oklahoma’s sales tax on groceries; and the Child Tax Credit, which strengthens families caring for children. These credits help more than 400,000 households — over 40 percent of Oklahoma families. For many, they provide just enough breathing room in the family budget to meet basic needs and avoid other forms of assistance. They help reduce some of the imbalance in a state and local tax system that already calls on those who make the least to pay the biggest share of their income in taxes.

A plan being discussed by Legislative leaders would eliminate the Child Tax Credit and reduce by one-fourth the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Sales Tax Relief Credit. This would shift taxes onto those families who were largely left out of Oklahoma’s income tax cuts, and it would have the worst impact on families raising children. For example, the proposal would mean a $180 tax increase for a couple with two children making $35,000. The same family got just $9 from this year’s income tax cut. A middle-income family earning $49,800 a year with four kids would see a tax increase of $270, more than the $228 they have gotten back from every income tax cut in Oklahoma over the past 12 years.

There’s a reason Jones speaks so frankly. We’re attacking huge problems with small solutions that would have unthinkable consequences. But there’s cake.

Another way to look at the problem is the broader economic impact of job cuts in the school systems. A group of 15 Tulsa area districts met this week and looked at the potential loss of 667 jobs due to the state’s budget problems, and the impact it would have on the area. Jobs mean homes and shopping. There are secondary consequences to all of this. As Tulsa mayor Dewey Bartlett said:

It will take a significant amount of political courage for them to do what’s necessary. It will be our responsibility to provide them with political cover when they do undertake the responsibility of making some very, very serious decisions.

Our state is in dire distress.

One of my favorite shows is House of Cards. In the show’s opening, the American Flag is shown upside down, which is a universal symbol of distress.


By now, we should probably consider doing the same with our own flag. As Rob Miller pointed out last week, our own choices have brought us to this point:

Yet, when oil was selling for $100 a barrel a few years ago, legislators chose to spend the extra proceeds on tax breaks and incentives for billion dollar corporations and passing a gratuitous income tax reduction.

It is important to remember that the annual cost of cuts to the top personal income tax rate enacted since 2005 is $1.022 billionaccording to an analysis conducted for Oklahoma Policy Institute by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-partisan national research organization. This amount includes the reduction of the top income tax rate to 5.0 percent from 5.25 percent that took effect in January 2016.

That extra one billion dollars would sure come in handy about now, wouldn’t it?

The clock is ticking. By law, the Legislative session has to end by 5:00 on May 27. As this clock shows, that’s about 18 days and 23 hours. Do something.

If you have to raise taxes to avoid being known as the Legislature that put senior citizens out on the streets, so be it. If you have to cut corporate incentives to avoid being the Legislature that decimated public schools, then do it. This isn’t a year to shake out the couch cushions and see what you can find. You did that last year. It hasn’t worked out too well.

Do something. Time is short.




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