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Oklahoma Dilemma

Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Oklahoma is decisively in a lose-lose situation.

If fossil fuel prices go down, which they have over the last several months despite a recent rebound, the state’s tax revenues plummet, our poor state gets even poorer in terms of government funding and the overall economy declines. If oil and gas prices skyrocket, then the frackers go berserk, creating environmental damage, including global warming, and now the earthquakes that rattle our homes and nerves on a daily basis.

We’ve all heard of and many of us have cringed at the term “The Oklahoma Standard,” but what we really have is “The Oklahoma Dilemma.” Unless the state can really diversify its economy—energy-related employment represents around one-quarter of all jobs here—then we’re tied to the boom and bust cycle of the fossil fuel patch for years to come or until fossil fuels are reduced to just one small segment of the world’s overall energy use.

I highly doubt Oklahoma CAN diversify its economy in any major sense. For decades, state leaders have talked about such diversification, and for decades nothing has really been done primarily because it can’t be done. Our state has major structural problems, like its Tornado Alley, its anti-education bias, its crumbling infrastructure and its almost intentional lack of modernization. Oklahoma is also tied to a slowly dying industry that is getting replaced incrementally by renewable energy, such as wind power, which doesn’t have the same economic impact or create speculative boom times like the oil patch.

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State Budget Crisis Continues But Mary Hearts Donald 100 Percent

The idea that Gov. Mary Fallin is truly getting real consideration to become Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s running mate as the GOP vice presidential nominee might be beyond my current political comprehension level, but then the success of the Trump campaign has defied reality and sanity for a lot of people in this country.

How an openly bigoted, sexist, billionaire narcissistic reality show actor became the presidential nominee of one of only two major political parties in the great United States has been and will be parsed and parsed by pundits and scholars until there’s nothing left to parse or until the end of the American empire, whichever comes first. The prevailing view for now on the left is that leading establishment Republicans have been finally exposed for their hypocrisy and lies, especially when it comes to their supposed support for working class people, who angrily vote for Trump because they feel betrayed. But let’s be clear: Polls, for now, show Trump gets rejected by a majority of general election voters, especially women. That’s a hopeful sign.

Fallin was mentioned as a possible running mate for Trump by former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer on a television talk show a couple weeks ago, and then the Trump camp tweeted: ".@AndreBauer Great job and advice on @CNN @jaketapper Thank you!" This is the gist of the only things that have happened on the grand Fallin/Trump political alliance: One remark by a former lieutenant governor from a small, inconsequential red state and a Trump-camp tweet. But, no, no, this hasn’t stopped Fallin from enjoying her carpe diem moment.

When Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Fallin decided to double down on her support for him while also mentioning she’s still open to talking about becoming his potential vice president nominee. An Associated Press story on the tragicomedy used the word “honored” to described how Fallin really feels about getting mentioned for vice president and also noted that our right-sizing governor supports Trump “100 percent.” Certainly, these are important and in-depth shallow and calculated remarks.

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Right-Sizing Oklahoma Into A Disaster

With the legislative session winding down, it’s important to note that beyond some suggestions and the presentation of larger ideas on how to deal with Oklahoma’s budget crisis, not much is happening on the issue at the state Capitol.

That’s bad news, although I’m sure Republicans, who dominate the legislature, would disagree that “not much is happening.” Well, I assume there’s talking going on among the conservatives, for sure, but where’s a realistic budget plan? What it all means is that it’s entirely possible that the budget and its $1.3 billion shortfall next fiscal year will get addressed at the last minute and before major stakeholders can address its specifics. This could be the tragedy in the making this session. By the time the fiscal damage becomes clear all the legislators will have gone home.

The legislature is scheduled to adjourn by May 27, and time is quickly running out.

Some of the ideas suggested by various legislators and other state leaders include ending some corporate tax incentives, “rebalancing” Medicaid by, among other things, increasing taxes on cigarettes by $1.50 a pack, and using bond money for road and bridge work thus freeing up more money for other agencies. I think it’s fair to say that overall all the plans or portions of the plans include at least some cuts for state agencies, including higher education.

The main problem, however, remains the general recalcitrant nature of the conservatives in the House and Senate. Elected on conservative platforms to “right-size” state government, their stubbornness is understandable. Gov. Mary Fallin’s particular use of ”the “right-size” jargon in previous years seems jarring and cruel right now as education, health programs and social services endure major cuts and are staring into a financial abyss for next fiscal year, which begins in July.

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