A Fantabulous Response When Conservatives Broke Oklahoma

There seems to be some fantabulous thinking going within some elements of the local liberal community when it comes to taxes in Oklahoma.

I’ll try not to stir up the liberal pot, again, like I did last week, but let’s be realistic, the GOP-dominated legislature is NOT going to substantially raise income taxes or, in essence, roll back the cuts dating back to 2004 anytime soon to fix the budget. There IS a slight possibility that the most recent 0.25 percent cut implemented starting in 2016 might get rolled back because of the efforts of state Sen. Mike Mazzei, a Tulsa Republican, but even that could eventually face a Gov. Mary Fallin veto or a court challenge. State budget writers would be wrong to count on the extra revenue until any legal action is decided, which could take weeks if not months.

Do we even want to restore all the income tax cuts that have been implemented since 2004, which has resulted in a severe state revenue decline? Lawmakers over the years have slashed income taxes from 6.65 percent in 2004 to 5 percent today. People here continue to elect these same type of lawmakers to office.

Wouldn’t it be better if we’re going to engage in fantabulous thinking to re-envision the overall income tax code and various brackets and sales taxes and credits and exemptions? Yes, of course. But that’s not going to happen either under a GOP-dominated government. It takes a three-fourths majority of legislators and the governor’s signature or a vote of the people to increase taxes. What’s more likely to happen is that the legislature and Fallin will cobble together a budget that falls short of providing more significant money to education and health care. Maybe education will get some more money but not enough for teacher raises or to make up for previous cuts.

A new poll out shows that Oklahomans supposedly want to prevent funding cuts by raising income taxes. But I believe the wording in the poll, conducted by the Global Strategy Group, led participants to that conclusion. The poll begins, for example, by mentioning the state’s $1.3 billion budget shortfall expected next fiscal year and possible cuts to education, health care and public safety. It doesn’t ask this question straight up: Are you in favor of raising income taxes in Oklahoma?

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Fallin Budget Proposal Falls Far Short

Image of Mary Fallin

While I can appreciate to some degree that Gov. Mary Fallin’s latest budget proposal offers increases for education funding next fiscal year it falls far short in providing schools truly adequate financial resources.

In addition, the different components of her proposal represent a problem in itself just for its sheer multiplicity and perhaps intentional and unnecessary complication and obfuscation and there is absolutely no guarantee any of it will get passed or even considered by the Oklahoma Legislature.

Politically, it does allow Fallin to claim she’s trying to stave off a growing education disaster and thus head off support for State Question 779, a ballot initiative that would raise the state sales tax by one penny, which would exclusively raise funding for education by $615 million annually and give much needed $5,000 raises to teachers. Perhaps, all Fallin’s proposal was intended to do was to ensure Oklahoma teachers don’t get raises now or for years to come.

I think it’s very intentional and highly calculated that Fallin trotted out her new plan-to-nowhere as a large group of educators were registering to run for the legislature this election and getting their group photo snapped near the do-nothing-but-cray-cray Republican-dominated Oklahoma House and Senate.

Conservatives broke Oklahoma and they want to hide it during this election year.

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Brain Drain Officially Commences In Oklahoma

Untitled acrylic and mixed media on canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1984

So another Oklahoma brain drain officially begins.

This is when a lot of teachers and other intellectuals leave the state because they either can’t find jobs here or they’re paid so poorly here they almost have to go elsewhere because other states will pay them much more money.

This brain drain has been brought to you by conservative policies that have led to a current revenue failure and a $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next fiscal year, which begins in July. Teacher and other school positions are getting eliminated in droves and the oil and gas industry layoffs—some of those fired people are highly educated as well—continue. It’s a real disaster.

Here’s how the conservatives created the brain drain:

In recent years, they cut income taxes, cuts that primarily benefited the rich. They also handed out major tax breaks to the oil and gas industry. They encouraged that industry’s reckless production policies through the GOP “drill, baby, drill” mantra, and that has led to a worldwide fossil fuel glut and a decline in gross production tax revenue here. It’s bad times here for a lot of people.

I realize you can go back to the governance of former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, when it comes to the income tax cuts, but here are the two caveats: (1) Democrat and conservative are not mutually exclusive words in Oklahoma, and (2) Henry’s actions were a compromise with Republicans when the state’s coffers were full many years ago.

The impact of a brain drain cannot be understated. Obviously, it means schools and universities will be stretched thin, and students can expect larger class sizes, and, in some cases, less personal attention. College tuition will go up. But what a brain drain also does is lower the overall quality of life in any given place and create a real leadership vacuum. The leadership pool shrinks, and that trickles down and impacts all sorts of lives.

I’m encouraged that some Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Scott Inman, are calling the conservatives out on their reckless financial policies, but, as I’ve been writing here, it needs to happen on just about a daily basis. If we get anything out of this, then at least let it be that more people wake up to the fact they’re voting against their own interests.

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