Proposed Cuts Target Oklahoma Working Families

I guess it only makes sense that some members of the GOP-dominated Oklahoma Legislature want to balance next year’s state budget by, among other initiatives, reducing tax credit programs for lower-income people.

It fits with the country’s contrived conservative narrative of “makers and takers” and, on the political operative level, with what seems almost archaic now: The “starve-the-beast” ideology (check out this post) heralded by Republicans as a panacea for decades. The idea is pretty simple. See, the government is a big, bad beast, and it needs to be starved of tax dollars that go to all those awful takers, such as the hungry and poor. This starving leads to less government/beast spending. What’s tragic is that type of thinking, often earnestly deployed by voters receiving Social Security and using Medicare, is based on emotional rage created by conservative fear mongers and demonizers. It isn’t based on a realistic interrogation of facts, evidence and statistics. That’s the larger issue.

But here’s the local issue: Oklahoma faces an approximately $1 billion shortfall for next fiscal year and has already cut spending this year because of what’s getting called a “revenue failure.” It could also just as easily be called fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement. The state also faces a major teacher shortage because of low salaries.The huge drop in revenue is because of a relatively recent history now of tax cuts for the state’s wealthiest people and the downturn in the oil and gas industry, which, of course, in recent years, got its own substantial tax breaks.

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Education Savings Accounts Not A Wise Choice For Oklahoma

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A couple of legislators, with support from the governor, are pushing for a sweeping school-voucher system in Oklahoma again this year, but the proposed plan could financially devastate our public schools, and with the state facing major budget problems, now is exactly the wrong time to implement such a system.

Two points need to be established before a discussion can even begin about the legislation:

(1) The vouchers are getting called Education Savings Accounts or ESA’s, but make no mistake these would be payments generated by overall tax dollars that parents can use to send their children to private schools. That’s the main point. Legislators can distort the language all they want, but what they’re proposing is a basic school-voucher system.

(2) If passed and signed into law, the law could eventually transfer a huge amount of taxpayer money to private and private-religious schools. The proposed legislation’s broader purposes, which are left unstated by its sponsors, of course, are to privatize education and endorse Christianity. It’s telling that recent forums about the vouchers were held at Mount St. Mary Catholic High School and and Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School.

State Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) through House Bill 2949, and state Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) through Senate Bill 609, are resubmitting their school-voucher legislation this year. The legislation has failed to pass in recent years.

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Will Rock N’ Roll, Cigs Save Oklahoma Education?

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Any Oklahomans who really thought it was going to be a cakewalk giving public school teachers $3,000 annual raises while balancing the state budget with taxes on rock n’ roll and cigarettes as outlined by Gov. Mary Fallin in her State of the State address Monday should read an Associated Press article about a Senate Finance Committee meeting shortly after the governor’s remarks.

Here’s the key paragraph in the article written by AP writer Sean Murphy:

. . . while tapping some of the hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of tax incentives and credits is tempting for budget writers looking to close the funding gap, the political reality is that each of the incentives has a constituency prepared to fiercely defend them.

Fallin didn’t really address what the article calls the “political reality” in her remarks Monday that opened up the legislative session. She wants the state to start to collect sales tax money, for example, on digital music purchases. The governor also is advocating raising taxes on cigarettes by $1.50 a pack. These proposals and others are supposedly going to make up for the approximate $1 billion budget shortfall and growing the state faces for next fiscal year and provide $3,000 raises for teachers.

The AP article points out the Senate committee voted against a bill that would prohibit some companies from getting tax breaks using the Quality Jobs Program and then also using another tax break for “investments that create new jobs.” One legislator called it “double dipping.” The committee did, however, pass a measure reducing tax incentives for developers of clean energy in the form of wind power. The two votes considered together represent backwards thinking in its purest form.

So do we have enough money yet for the teacher raises? Well, not quite.

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