Al Franken Won

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The votes have been counted and recounted, and the result is clear: Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live star, has won a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota.

But his opponent, Republican Norm Coleman, and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, another Republican who must certify the election results, are obstructing Franken from taking his seat and representing the state. It’s a GOP ploy to manipulate the system to either declare Coleman the winner of the election somehow or to delay Franken from joining the Democratic majority in the Senate for as long as possible.

The latest news from Minnesota is that a panel of judges has declared Franken the winner with a 312-vote lead. Coleman has said he will appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court. He has even indicated it might take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court as well. Meanwhile, Minnesota is left with only one Senator, and the situation could drag on for weeks or even months as Republicans continue to obstruct.

No one disputes this was an extremely close election, and it’s reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore with one major exception: This time the GOP wants the recounting to go on. In the end, it’s typical, self-serving politics.

It would be inexcusable at this point to conduct another count of any votes or to just declare Coleman the winner in the election. If Franken is not seated, the election will seem corrupt and the overall Minnesota political system will seem corrupt. Certainly, the GOP should be disappointed, but in today’s political world elections are sometimes extremely close.

Minnesota Republicans should heed the advice of Bush’s 2000 campaign chairman, Don Evans, who said during the Gore/Bush morass: “Our democratic process calls for a vote on Election Day, it does not call for us to continue voting until someone likes the outcome.”

Franken won. Give him his Senate seat. The U.S. Senate needs his intelligence and creativity. The people in Minnesota deserve representation.

Give it up, Norm.

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State Budget Cuts Loom

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In another sign the Oklahoma economy is slipping, State Treasurer Scott Meacham reported today that revenue collections have slid below projected estimates.

In a press release, Meacham said third-quarter revenue collections for 2009 were down $34.5 from the projected estimate. This is the first time in nearly six years revenue collections fell below the estimate, according to the release, but it’s still a $33.4 million increase over last year’s collections. This was led by $93.1 million revenue decline in March compared to last year.

What does this portend for Oklahoma?

Meacham points out that current collections apply to this fiscal year budget and he remains hopeful the state can finish out the year without budget cuts. Next year, however, is a different story.

According to Meacham:

The next state budget year that begins July 1 of this year will definitely require cuts. While federal stimulus money will help offset some of those reductions, we will most certainly have to cut spending. We anticipate making targeted reductions in funding for the coming year. If we were to experience a revenue shortfall in the current year, we would be required to make across-the-board cuts.

The overall Oklahoma economy has so far escaped the brunt of the national recession, but unemployment is on the rise and revenue collections continue to slide. Some of the larger questions are how far will the slide go, and how will it impact educational funding and social/health services.

Tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy in recent years have added to the current budget problems.

Earlier in the year, the Oklahoma Policy Institute outlined some ways the state could handle a budget shortfall.

According to an OK Policy brief:

The deteriorating budget situation obviously presents tough choices for Oklahoma policymakers. Since Oklahoma is constitutionally prohibited from running a deficit, its options for keeping expenditures aligned with revenues consist primarily of three choices: it can tap reserve funds; it can raise new revenues; and/or it can cut expenditures.

Gov. Brad Henry has so far ruled out tapping into Oklahoma’s $600 million Rainy Day Fund. It’s highly unlikely legislators and policymakers can raise significant revenues without tax increases, which have not even been proposed or debated. That leaves budget cuts. How deep will they go?

Update: This post has been updated to correct an error. The decrease in collections were for the third-quarter, not just March. The OK Policy Blog has a thorough breakdown of the numbers.

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Inhofe Spin Guts Reality

When will the state’s corporate media outlets hold U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe accountable?

In a recent YouTube video, Inhofe said the Obama budget was “cutting” and “gutting” the military. But there’s a real problem with that argument. It’s simply not true.

The Obama budget, in fact, increases the military budget from $513 to $534 billion. The budget would supposedly retool the military and eliminate some weapon systems, but it’s still a $21 billion or four percent increase.

As part of the Pentagon retooling, a cannon project pushed by Inhofe will be cut. Part of the cannon was to be assembled by a military contractor in Elgin, and Inhofe and other Oklahoma politicians criticized the specific decision to cut the program. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would have recommended cuts to the cannon and other weapon programs regardless of budgetary constraints.

The larger issue here is Inhofe can simply make stuff up because the Oklahoma corporate media doesn’t hold him accountable. This should have been a major local story. Instead, it’s pretty much up to outside media outlets or local independent online sites once again to report accurately on Inhofe’s distortions. (Thanks to Alternative Tulsa for finding this video.) Inhofe’s comments are more than just the usual partisan spin on a particular issue or Republican talking points. They are huge distortions. It's important to note as well the United States spends more on military than the European Union. Obama's budget, again, only increases the amount American taxpayers spend on the military

As usual, another Inhofe quip lowers the political discourse. How can you debate defense spending, for example, with someone who calls a four percent increase in the military budget “gutting”? Inhofe has every right to push for his cannon program or criticize aspects of the military budget or argue for larger increases, but his claim that Obama’s budget reduces or guts military spending is ludicrous.

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