The state’s conservatives recently launched an initiative petition drive to legally and forever ensure Oklahoma remains in the absolute bottom of national education funding.
The conservatives have brought their latest freak show, the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights or TABOR, here not because state spending is skyrocketing or there is major government waste but because they know they can manipulate Oklahomans with lies, distortions, and the hackneyed and untrue right-wing mantras about big government.
TABOR is about reducing the taxes of rich people. Repeat it. TABOR is about reducing the taxes of rich people.
The petition drive to place TABOR on the ballot needs approximately 200,000 signatures. The drive is partially funded, of courses, from conservative groups outside of Oklahoma. These groups have ideological connection to TABOR because they want to continue President George Bush’s massive ideological program to transfer wealth to the country’s richest citizens as the middle-class deals with stagnant wages and rising health care costs. TABOR is a part of this program on a state level.
If supporters garner enough petition signatures, Oklahomans will vote on a constitutional amendment that limits the growth of state spending each year to a formula that considers the inflation rate and population growth.
What the TABOR Republicans will say is that this is a good way to monitor and check government spending. They will say TABOR ensures government officials cannot spend more in terms of percentage than, say, an average family.
(Ironically, their iconic leader President George Bush is one of the most reckless spenders in American history.)
Here is what they will NOT say:
(1) TABOR has been a complete disaster in Colorado. It has wreaked havoc on the economy as educational funding has plummeted and the state became Oklahlomaesque in its treatment of infrastructure. The state was once known for its excellent quality of living. Now it is known for its stupidity in becoming the forerunner of the latest conservative tax cut fad. The state will consider rescinding some of the features of TABOR in an upcoming election but you will not hear that from those collecting signatures.
A recent Denver Post series on TABOR showed just how controversial TABOR has become in that state.
According to one article, “As a way to manage a growing state, TABOR is an unmitigated disaster, its detractors say.
“The amendment, they say, has left Colorado in a deep financial hole that jeopardizes the quality of life that once made the state the envy of the nation.
“’Even something as good as TABOR always has unintended consequences,’” said Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who has been accused of betraying fiscal conservatives by signing on to Referendums C and D. “’It works very well in a growing economy, but the challenge is you can't adjust for tough times.’"
Note this is a Republican governor talking about the “unintended consequences” of TABOR.
(2) TABOR does not allow for states to make up for severe “down” years in state revenues or to pay for big state projects with available cash. If a state goes through successive years of lowering budgets, it can then only grow its budget—when it can—by the formula percentage. It cannot catch up. It must then refund the extra money to taxpayers as schools and health programs and road maintenance projects suffer huge cuts. The bulk of those refunds will, of course, go to the richest people in the state. Even if provisions are instituted to eliminate this obvious flaw in TABOR, its dogma and philosophy would create unnecessary political and legal trepidation to do the right thing for schools during a major funding crisis.
(3) Oklahoma is absolutely the worst place for TABOR. It is a relatively small state with chronic funding problems for education and infrastructure. It needs flexibility in the budget process. It also experiences regular downturns in state revenues sometimes outside of national trends. This means that when the rest of the country is flourishing, Oklahoma could be laying off teachers and ignoring its infrastructure problems in a major financial crisis, compounding its problem of low population growth and sealing its “hick” status. Remember, the state lost a congressional seat after the 2000 U.S. Census. In addition, Oklahoma already consistently ranks in the bottom ten of states in terms of per student spending and teacher salaries. The state should at least move to “average” national educational funding before it considers such a radical, draconian tax-cut incentive.
It is proven nonsense now that today’s Republicans—these immoral, greedy neocons—are somehow more concerned with accountable and fiscally responsible government than Democrats. Under Bush and one-party Republican rule, the government is running staggering budget deficits as it rewards non-competitive war and disaster-relief contracts to administration cronies such as Halliburton. The financial corruption of the Bush II government will live in historical infamy as the Bushies plunder the national treasure.
Anyone concerned with education in Oklahoma should not only refuse to sign the petition but also work actively to defeat this proposed amendment if it makes it to the ballot.
(I learned late last night that Frosty Troy, the longtime editor of the Oklahoma Observer has died. Troy was a legend in Oklahoma journalism and a great advocate for liberal causes in this state. I will have a post celebrating his life soon. My...
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