The fight against TABOR—the proposed constitutional amendment that would devastate the state’s educational systems—continues here in Oklahoma.
The Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future is leading a campaign to educate people about TABOR. These efforts have attracted a diverse group of state citizens from former U.S. House Rep. Brad Carson to former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, according to the organization.
The alliance, according to a recent statement, is holding events around the state to ensure Oklahomans are aware of the devastating impact of TABOR if adopted here.
TABOR, or the Orwellian-named “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” would limit the growth of state government to a formula tied to the inflation rate and population growth. Any leftover money would be refunded to taxpayers. This formula would be mandated by a constitutional amendment, which may be on the ballot in November. An initiative petition to get the issue, State Question 726, on the ballot is facing a legal challenge right now.
Colorado voters recently rescinded their TABOR amendment because it had devastated their economy and educational systems.
Oklahoma, a relatively poor state, is the wrong place at the wrong time for such an amendment. For example, the state is woefully behind in funding education compared to regional and national averages. TABOR would mean the state would never be able to even begin to catch up, and this would have a devastating impact on improving the quality of life here. This quality-of-life issue means the state will have a tough time attracting economic development, which, in turn, reduces the state’s revenue foundation even more.
A group of prominent state business people have filed a lawsuit challenging the TABOR initiative petition that would place the issue on the ballot. But their lawsuit came late in the process. Why didn’t the business bigwigs speak up earlier? It is the great mystery unreported by the Oklahoma “mainstream” media, which is the most conservative media in the nation.
And, of course, here in Oklahoma, some legislators like House Speaker Todd Hiett (R-Kellyville) and his followers want to give even more tax breaks to wealthy people, which is the basic foundation of the TABOR philosophy. So, essentially, we are going to give the ultra-rich—all those business bigwigs from Chesapeake, Devon, Kerr McGee, etc. who are supposedly against TABOR—a new, fat tax break now, and then maybe give them another in November when voters go to the polls. It will not make a bit of difference that voters will be lied to by TABOR supporters, most of whom come from outside the state. It will not make a bit of difference the business bigwigs are suddenly against TABOR now. They still get the money, and the rest of us get underfunded schools, shoddy roads, stagnant wages, rising gasoline prices, and skyrocketing health care costs.
Oh yeah, Hiett and company are going to eliminate the state estate tax for rich people, too, because we no longer live in a meritocracy. Currently, an Oklahoma estate, passed along as inheritance, has to be worth $1 million or more before it is taxed. But in Bush World these days you get ahead by inheriting money not hard work.
In fact, "only the wealthiest one-fourth of 1 percent of all people who die in the United States in 2006 will pay any estate taxes. That leaves the other 99.7 percent of the public free to pass on 100 percent of their assets untaxed," according to a recent article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Perhaps we should just close down state government, including our schools, and just make the state one huge gated community for rich oil and newspaper company owners and executives. Chesahoma? Devonahoma? Gaylordahoma?
I believe in the philosophy of “going down fighting” so everyone should do their part to oppose TABOR, but until there is a seismic political shift in the state or until the state’s power structure really gets behind improving the state’s educational systems and infrastructure Oklahoma will continue to lag behind the nation.
The TABOR issue is just one more reason for the Oklahoma State Senate to stand firm in ongoing state budget negotiations. Governor Brad Henry has called a special session of the legislature to pass a budget for this coming fiscal year.
The Oklahoma House, led by Republicans, wants a big tax cut for wealthy people because the state government has a $1 billion “surplus.” (I put surplus in quotes because it implies the state does not have chronic state government funding problems. This state will never have a real surplus since we underfund so much of our government and schools.) But why should we give all this money away to the ultra rich when TABOR could go into effect next year?
It sets up the perfect storm. We reduce the income tax rate from 6.25 to 5.5, which primarily benefits the wealthy, and then next year we have TABOR, which limits government growth and also gives fat refund checks to the state’s rich people. We will not be able to rescind the tax cut because state law makes that virtually impossible. That leaves our school systems and state government desperately underfunded. It would be wise and prudent to not cut the income tax rate until we know if we will live under TABOR soon.
Senate Democrats have offered a different plan that gives a tax cut by increasing the standard deduction, and they want more funding for education, including teacher raises of $3,000. All state employees deserve a raise as well. Rising gasoline prices and stagnant wages have taken their toll on average Oklahomans. Higher education needs a big boost, too, because of skyrocketing tuition costs in recent years. This seems wise and prudent. Ordinary Oklahomans get a tax break, and education gets some extra funding.
Once the TABOR issue is settled, then we might look at restructuring the tax system in the state.
Taking Christianity Back
A group that wants to “reclaim Christianity in America” will give a 7 p.m. Wednesday presentation at the Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City.
The group, CrossWalk America, argues the nation’s “religious right” does not speak for all Christians. Members of the group are walking across America to proclaim their beliefs.
According the organization’s Web site, it believes in “openness to other faiths, care for the earth and its ecosystems, valuing artistic expression in all its forms m authentic inclusiveness of all people - including God's lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (lgbt) community , opposing the commingling of Church and State, promoting the values of rest and recreation, prayer and reflection, embracing both faith and science in the pursuit of truth.”
It is great to see continuing efforts by the religious left in the country to counter the culture of hate and intolerance by the religious right extremists.
Shlain Speaks To Oklahoma Educators, Techies
Our culture is shifting from a communication paradigm of “one to many to many to many,” according to Tiffany Shlain, a leading Internet expert who spoke in Oklahoma City Thursday.
This shift will open up more social networking opportunities as more people communicate through blogs, emails, text messaging, podcasts, and individual videos, Shlain said. The idea of the “isolated” Internet user has become obsolete as more and more people connect on the Internet and create new communities.
Shlain was the keynote speaker at the Oklahoma Technology Conference at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City Thursday. More than 600 educators and technical innovators attended the one-day event, which featured presentations and software and hardware displays.
(Here is a podcast that gives an overview of my presentation at the conference. It may take a minute for the mp3 file to upload.)
An expert on the Internet and a filmmaker, Shlain created the Webby Awards, which are given to people who have enhanced the Internet. Former Vice President Al Gore recently received a lifetime achievement award, for example, and one of this year’s winners is Prince.
Shlain’s “many to many” paradigm reflects a shift of cultural power from mainstream media outlets to various Internet communities. These communities include political blogs, volunteer organizations and dating services. The new communication paradigm creates a myriad of new personal and public “spaces” for people in the twenty-first century, she said.
She said the new communication mirrors stream-of-consciousness, which is nonlinear and plural. The term stream-of-consciousness is often used to describe the literary techniques of authors such as James Joyce, whose writing often focuses on the unfiltered and fragmented psychological thoughts of his characters.
In addition, the amount of information on the Internet on sites such as Wikipedia has enabled people to rely less on rote memory, freeing them to develop new ways of thinking and constructing reality, Shlain said. Everyone is now just a click away from finding information. The question becomes: How important is rote memory in the information age?
Shlain called the Internet an “incredible moveable feast” that has transformed the world.
Shlain also showed one of her short films, “The Tribe,” which deconstructs stereotypes about Jewish people and other groups using the life story of a woman who created the first Barbie doll. She recently showed the film at the Sundance Film Festival.
Oklahoma City Not Sustainable?
Oklahoma City ranks 49th out of 50 cities in terms of sustainable living, according to rankings released by Sustainlane.com, an environmental group.
The city gets such a low ranking because of its public transportation systems and lack of carpooling, according to a local news report. Perhaps the main reason for the low ranking, in my mind, is Oklahoma City’s massive sprawl, which requires automobile transportation no matter where you live. This sprawl, if left unchecked, will make it extremely problematic for the metropolitan area in an energy or environmental crisis.
Could it be that homes in those expensive gated communities so far removed from the metropolitan area will someday be worth less than homes in the inner city near public transportation hubs, such as the airport and bus station? I think so.
We should focus on building more infrastructure—office buildings, schools, medical centers—in the central part of downtown to prepare for $5 a gallon gasoline and environmental problems created by global warming.
Perhaps, we also need to create a new public college or build a major (note the word “major” here) branch of an existing public university in the Bricktown area in order to meet the needs of students who are facing rising gasoline prices along with higher tuition costs. The new college would transcend the existing Downtown College Consortium by offering students a full college experience in a thriving, downtown environment. It would also ensure Bricktown’s business success.
Bleakley on Cornett
Bill Bleakley, publisher of the Oklahoma Gazette, has an insightful article in his paper this week about how Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett “has not been a stand-up guy with respect to the handling of his political aspirations.”
I agree. Cornett recently won a new term as mayor and then turned around almost immediately and started looking at his options to run for Oklahoma’s U.S. House 5th District’s seat in 2006. Bleakley writes: “He should have told us . . .”
You bet he should have told us. How well can Cornett run the city and a major campaign at the same time? Oklahoma City citizens deserved to know what they were getting into by reelecting Cornett. And, as Bleakley points out, what if the House race gets “mean-spirited?” How will that affect Oklahoma City?
Geeks Unite in OKC
More than 600 people from across the state and nation are expected to attend Thursday’s Oklahoma Technology Conference at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City.
Sponsored by Oklahoma City Public Schools, this huge event brings together educators, technical innovators, and technology companies for a day filled with presentations, workshops, and cutting-edge software and hardware displays.
The conference has quickly become one of the premiere technology conferences in the state. More than 600 people have already registered to attend, according to conference organizers.
This year’s keynote speaker, the glamorous Tiffany Shlain, is a fabulous, dynamic speaker and motivator. Creator of the Webby Awards, Shlain is considered one of the most articulate people about the Internet and technology in the country. She is also a screenwriter and filmmaker.
The Webby Awards are given each year to people who have contributed in some meaningful way to enhance the Internet. One of this year’s recipients is none other than former Vice President Al Gore who promoted the Internet politically during its early stages.
Check out the great conference Web site for more information.
Every summer when Oklahoma City issues its first clean air alert, and it has already done so, I wonder what more our culture needs in terms of motivation or warning in order to develop alternative fuels or invest in more public transportation or enhance hybrid technology. Rising gasoline prices and declining oil supplies only add to the dilemma.
Perhaps, it will take an energy or environmental crisis of some type, though rising gasoline prices have made virtually everyone I know more aware of how energy dictates our lives. Unfortunately, a place like Oklahoma City, with its sprawling metropolitan area, poses unique challenges for someone trying to save money by conserving gasoline.
Our “sprawl” may well mean the Oklahoma City area will suffer economically in future years when people will need more public transportation and need to live closer to their jobs. Much of our major infrastructure—colleges, schools, hospitals, office complexes—is so spread out it will take a major rebuilding effort or shifting of the population in the face of declining energy supplies.
I am not arguing this shift will happen overnight, but I do wonder what the city’s sprawl will mean in 10, 25 or 50 years. Recent studies show more people are moving to downtown Oklahoma and living in more populated, dense areas, but there remains much to do.
(The downtown area needs a grocery store, for example, like Whole Foods in Austin, Texas. This grocery store should be able to sell wine. Perhaps we can declare this one spot in Oklahoma an “international free market zone,” or something like that, and just let it sell wine. Let’s do it for the planet!)
The Oklahoma City Council recently started studying when the city could feasibly switch to alternative fuel vehicles without federal help, according to a news report. This is a great first step, and the council should be commended, but all government agencies in the state should start making plans for $5 a gallon or more gasoline.
More than anything else, U.S. Senator James Inhofe needs to back away from his ridiculous claims that global warming is a hoax. Science shows global warming is quite real, and it is caused at least partially by car emissions. Inhofe’s lack of concern for the environment allows some Oklahomans to copout on taking care of the planet when thinking about their mode of transportation.
But we do know how much gasoline costs these days. Even Inhofe cannot play the “hoax” card about that. It is all part of the same problem. We need to start moving away from fossil fuels.
No Tax Cuts For The Rich
The Alliance for Oklahoma’s Future has a study on its Web site that shows how the income tax reduction proposal floated by House Republicans will primarily benefit the richest people in the state.
Meanwhile, the tax cuts will mean higher college tuition, dilapidated roads and underfunded schools for ordinary Oklahoman. In other words, you might get a $50 tax break one year, but you will spend $300 more in college tuition or other government costs. Maybe your kid will not have access to the math textbooks she needs to become successful. Is that worth $50? Oklahoma is not, I repeat, is not a high tax state when compared to other states.
If we do reduce or eventually eliminate the state income tax, then we should make sure we have other revenue streams to replace the money, and those revenue streams should be based on progressive tax models.
A proposal offered recently by the State Senate leadership to lower taxes by increasing the state's standard deduction to the federal level is a much better idea and will benefit more people.
For five years under the ideology of President George Bush, the ultra rich and big corporations have received major tax cuts and massive corporate welfare. It is time state politicians think about the little guy—not big oil company executives—when constructing the state budget.