Statement: Disappointing results and hope for the future in this year’s legislative session

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement on the final results of Oklahoma’s 2017 regular legislative session:

If we look only at the bills that made it through the full legislative process to be signed by the governor, most Oklahomans would view this year’s legislative session as a disappointment. Lawmakers entered the session knowing they needed to confront big problems — like uncompetitive pay that is draining away our most skilled teachers and state workers; a failing, hugely expensive criminal justice system; long waiting lists for mental health treatment, at-home disability care, and other key health services; and a budget that every year falls further behind what’s needed to keep our state prosperous and safe. As the session limps to a close, lawmakers have failed to address any of these problems.

This failure is especially disappointing when we consider the promises made earlier in the year. Throughout legislative session, lawmakers repeated again and again that they would find funding to provide a teacher raise. Governor Fallin, legislative leaders, and experts in the community and law enforcement came together to develop a strong, well-thought-out agenda for criminal justice reform. Hundreds of advocates and lawmakers came to the table with practical revenue solutions to fund essential services and fix Oklahoma’s long-term budget outlook.

By these efforts, we came close to achieving big advances for Oklahoma families, only to crash against obstruction and gridlock in the final days of session. What emerged was a last-minute budget with more damaging cuts as well as legally questionable revenue measures. Most of the burden of this year’s budget shortfall was once again pushed onto low- and middle-income families while sparing the wealthiest households and corporate interests. The last chance for a teacher raise this year was derailed by the Senate’s refusal to cap itemized deductions for very wealthy households. This problematic budget was forced through with little time for Oklahomans to see what was in it or voice their concerns.

Amid these failures, we see an undercurrent of hope for Oklahoma’s future. This year, more than ever before, numerous informed, engaged Oklahomans regularly came to the Capitol or worked within their communities to advocate for better state policies. Popular outcry was key to stopping Oklahoma from moving backwards by allowing an expansion of predatory lending practices or rolling back the smart on crime reforms of State Question 780. Revenue ideas that had never been seriously considered before, despite years of failing budgets, were on the table in final negotiations. Legislative leadership ultimately failed to reach a bipartisan deal on the budget or prevent one member from derailing the work of the majority on criminal justice. But beneath that leadership failure is a rising group of lawmakers and regular Oklahomans who are eager to do better.

Better policies fell barely short of the finish line this year. We are excited to work with the lawmakers and other Oklahomans who are ready to carry that progress over the line, next year and beyond.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gene Perry joined OK Policy in January 2011. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism. Gene also serves on the board of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network, is a trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and has chaired the communications advisory committee for the State Priorities Partnership, a nationwide network of state fiscal policy think tanks. He lives in Tulsa with his wife Kara Joy McKee, who is a Tulsa City Councilor.

3 thoughts on “Statement: Disappointing results and hope for the future in this year’s legislative session

  1. I call B. S. on this whole process! No raise for teachers to save tax cuts for the wealthy! Surprise, surprise! Shame on every last one of you that voted for this and may you rot in hell for your lies, dishonesty and greed!

  2. Sadly, I don’t see Oklahomans changing from voting against their own interests via a hard line ideology. Straight party voting and catchy “Faith, Family, and Freedom” type seem to resonate with most Oklahoma voters. Very few do their homework and we have seen the unfortunate results. Sadly I think it will continue in 2018. No one to blame for Oklahoma’s problems, but Oklahoma voters.

  3. I don’t care if you are democrat or republican. I don’t care if you support oil or wind energy. This budget is a disaster. Our state is a disaster. We are at the bottom of every list they can come up with except legislative salaries. Our teachers and kids are getting short changed. The mentally ill are getting short changed. And it won’t matter how many non- violent offenders they release, there will be just that many more mentally ill arrested that might not have been had they been receiving proper drugs and treatment. They will be put in prisons that are underfunded. DHS is underfunded and we point fingers evertime a child dies in their care. You promised teachers a raise this year and then you take it away because you don’t want to limit itemized deductions to the wealthy. By the way, I am not a teacher. And the legislature sits back and blames each other. They are suppose to work together. Since they didn’t do a satisfactory job, maybe we should start the revenue rolling by withholding their salaries. What are the going to do? Resign?

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