What Fallin’s goals for state government tell us about Oklahoma

Photo by House GOP
Photo by House GOP

During her 2015 State of the State Address, Governor Fallin announced a new state website that would identify measurable objectives for state government and track how Oklahoma is doing at reaching these objectives over time. The website looks at 160 metrics in five areas: Healthy Citizens & Strong Families; Safe Citizens & Secure Communities; Educated Citizens & Exemplary Schools; Prosperous Citizens & Thriving Economy; and Effective Services & Accountable Government. For each metric, the site shares a current statistic and a target to reach in the next few years. The site also describes some of what the state is doing to reach that target.

Fallin implied that the metrics would influence state budget decisions, saying, “Our goal is to change the paradigm when it comes to state agency management. Using OkStateStat, Oklahoma will become the first state in the nation to develop a comprehensive budgeting system that ties spending to measurable goals and outcomes.” That change in paradigm is yet to be seen in the Governor’s most recent budget proposal, which she released on the same day. The latest budget continues the pattern set by most previous budgets in her administration — flat funding or small increases to a few state agencies, across the board cuts to everything else.

Legislation has been introduced to implement “performance-informed” budgeting. The bill asks state agencies and a legislative committee to review budgets using “performance-informed” techniques, but it says nothing about what that means. Nevertheless, it’s worth looking at the goals set down by OKStateStat for insight into where Oklahoma is today and where the Governor and state agencies hope we will go.

The 160 metrics listed on the site come with quite varied levels of ambition. Many of the goals set sensible targets for improving in areas that most everyone would agree with — such as lowering infant mortality, decreasing college remediation, or increasing Oklahomans’ median income.

Others goals on the site are not so realistic. One that immediately stands out is the goal to cut the percentage of Oklahomans without health insurance nearly in half, from 17 percent in 2013 to 9.5 percent in 2019. Such a large drop in the uninsured is not without precedent — from 2013 to mid-2014, Arkansas and Kentucky saw 10.1 percentage point and 8.5 percentage point drops, respectively, in their uninsured rates. Yet what those states have in common is something that Governor Fallin has so far refused to do; they both took advantage of the billions in federal dollars offered under the Affordable Care Act to expand coverage to those below the poverty line. As long as this opportunity is not on the table in Oklahoma, Governor Fallin’s goal of significantly cutting the uninsured rate is simply not credible.

Another goal listed on the site offers a sobering glimpse at how hard some of our state’s challenges will be. The site sets a goal to reduce Oklahoma’s prison population from 28.328 in 2014 to 26,200 in 2018. Taking the prison population down 7.5 percent would be an accomplishment, especially considering that it has increased nearly every year since 1980. The goal set by OKStateStats would only bring Oklahoma down to the incarceration levels of 2012.

We can and should do more to provide alternatives to entering prison. We can increase supervision and support for those leaving prison. But neither strategy will do much in the short-term to cut down on the large numbers already in prison, absent a mass release of inmates, because many of the current long prison terms are already “baked in” to the system. That’s especially troubling because Oklahoma’s overcrowded, underfunded, and unsafe prisons are already hemorrhaging corrections officers by the hundreds. The worthy goal of reducing our prison population to 2012 levels won’t be enough to grapple with the emergency situation in our prisons.

[pullquote]The underlying premise of OKStateStat is that government can play a constructive, affirmative role in all of our lives.”[/pullquote] Other choices made in putting together these metrics will have their critics — one education blogger pointed out that the site doubles down on Oklahoma’s controversial A-F grading system for schools. Certain legislators might take issue with the goal of increasing the number of schools offering AP coursework.

We may differ on the details, but the overall project points in a good direction. By identifying specific goals for Oklahoma and the public policies meant to get us there, OKStateStat acknowledges a truth that is too often missing from our political rhetoric — that many of our goals are best achieved by working together through democratic government. The underlying premise of OKStateStat is that government can play a constructive, affirmative role in all of our lives. That’s a truth the most radical forces in our politics want us to forget.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. 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.

2 thoughts on “What Fallin’s goals for state government tell us about Oklahoma

  1. OKStateStat does not seem to have any mention of the Oklahoma School of Science & Mathematics (OSSM). By any number of metrics it’s one oof the finest schools in the country. Yet, the Governor budget has cut this school year after year and the proposed budget for OSSM this coming year has a 6.25% cut. OSSM is hemorrhaging teachers as fast as OKla. Corrections is hemorrhaging employees. Makes one wonder if they are really interested in performance based budgeting.

  2. There are degrees of punishment for certain crimes. There is 1st degree murder, 2nd degree and manslaughter… BUT the system uses the classification “violent” whether a person murders someone or two 18 year olds get in a fight with sticks and one hurts the other. The one who gets hurt – that’s his punishment (his wound heals & no further consequences – even though he was the aggressor); and the one who prevailed gets a violent charge, Assault with a deadly weapon, on his record for the rest of his life.

    No common sense in sentencing. And some wonder why we have prison overcrowding.


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