President Barack Obama’s approval rating might be low in the state, but it’s not because he hasn’t done anything to help Oklahoma.
The president’s signature fiscal stimulus plan has helped the state government avoid a complete budget disaster for next year and increased funding for education. The plan is also creating jobs through a wide variety of road construction projects. It has helped stabilized some health programs. Overall, the state is expected to receive $2.6 billion from the president’s plan.
The legislative budget agreement reached Friday for next fiscal year does include cuts, but both common and higher education will actually get a 2 percent increase in funding because of the president’s plan. It’s difficult to exaggerate the significance of increasing educational funding during an economic downturn. When the economy is bad, people often retrain or change careers, and educational systems are the most important part of this process.
Stimulus money added $630 million to the budget, bringing it to $7.2 million, which is a slight increase over last year’s budget, according to news reports. The state also has stimulus money it can use for 2011.
The budget calls for a 7 percent cut for most agencies. This cut could have been lessened if the legislature had tapped into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which currently has close to $600 million in it. What will get cut? Will people lose their jobs? How will stagnant salaries among government workers affect the Oklahoma City and the overall state economies? Although it may seem counterintuitive, it would have been more prudent to use some of the Rainy Day money now in order to put more money into economy to help create jobs. The legislature should have also increased taxes slightly on Oklahoma’s highest income earners.
Here is OKPolicyBlog's first take on the budget agreement:
The Legislature and Governor are to be commended for their commitment to protecting key public services and their willingness to use federal stimulus dollars to make up for a portion of the shortfall in state revenues. But the steep cuts and funding gaps that most agencies will face in the coming year will leave financially-strapped agencies less capable of fulfilling their missions, whether protecting the public safety, administering justice, regulating businesses to protect consumers, providing care to the needy, or educating children.
Nonetheless, Obama’s plan did work for Oklahoma. Everyone can agree the budget situation would have been much worse without the stimulus money. So why are the president’s approval ratings low here? Nationwide, the president has a 67 percent approval rating, according to Gallup. In Oklahoma, it stands at 47 percent, according to a recent Sooner Poll.
One reason for Obama's low numbers here is that the Oklahoma corporate media has not thoroughly acknowledged how much the president’s plan would help the state's floundering economy. That will be more difficult to do now that the state budget shows tangible results of Obama’s rescue.
Oklahoma, known as a beggar or recipient state, gets far more money back from the federal government than it pays to it. For every dollar paid in federal taxes, Oklahoma receives $1.48. This fact is rarely mentioned in local teabagger rhetoric and on the editorial page of The Oklahoman. Government has always been the solution—never the problem—for Oklahoma, at least when it comes to money.