Oklahoma Hate Study Makes The News

I don’t know what I can add to the media hoopla over Oklahoma state Rep. John Bennett’s supremely weird and bigoted interim study of so-called “Radical Islam” this week, but it might be worth noting the legislator’s inflammatory gestures are symbolic of how the Republican Party here continues to offer fear-mongering as a substitute for substance.

Oh yeah, state GOP legislators also pass ruinous fiscal policies that are destroying the state’s education and health systems, but that’s another issue. Let’s get on with the hate study.

Another digression: That’s Bennett, a Sallisaw Republican and his gun-toting family in the tweet after the first paragraph. I don’t think it’s meant to be satire or parody. Is it on some deeper level of reality? I don’t know. It makes one wonder.

The title of the interim study, according to an Oklahoma House press release, was “Radical Islam, Shariah Law, the Muslim Brotherhood and the radicalization process,” which, of course, implies that all these things represent some type of specific and unique dilemma in outback Oklahoma.

Well, I guess the “radicalization process” by the right-wing Christian religious folks here in Oklahoma is a major problem, but I don’t think Bennett intended the title to be read that way.

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A state senator looking into how much money Oklahoma spends to provide health insurance to its employees says she doesn’t see “a reduction being in the cards,” but it won’t do much to appease concerns this is the beginning of an effort by legislators to cut benefits.

State Sen. Kim David, a Porter Republican, was quoted about the “cards” in The Oklahoman recently after she and state Rep. Michael Rogers, a Broken Arrow Republican, held what gets called a “study” by a joint Senate and House committee. The committee met, according to a legislative press release, to study “how to better serve the health needs of state and education employees while also controlling health care costs to the state.”

It’s hard not to read between the lines on this issue. Here’s a quote from the press release: “Rogers said he was concerned about the astronomical costs of insuring the state’s school employees.” Here’s a quote from David in the press release: “If we want to give our teachers a pay raise, right now everything that we have keeps going into covering their additional healthcare costs.”

The focus on insurance for teachers and school employees and the tie-in with raises is telling. The bottom line is if the state gives teachers a raise but then cuts their insurance benefits, then there’s no real raise or at least it becomes a smaller raise. David, as I mentioned, said a cut isn’t in “the cards,” but she’s just one Republican legislator among many Republican legislators, who have a proven track record of passing tax cuts and breaks that benefit the state's wealthiest citizens and oil and gas companies while slashing public education funding.

According to the release, the state “spends on average $274 million for the annual state employee benefit allowance and $441 million for the education employees’ benefit allowance.” The costs are rising because, well, all health costs and health insurance costs are rising because we have a medical system that spends too much money on reaping profits for insurance companies and also because the country doesn’t have a Medicare-like universal insurance option that would control costs.

I’m not the only one to see the “study” as a beginning of an effort to cut benefits for teachers and state employees.

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Oklahoma Leads Nation In Per Pupil Spending Cuts

It can be terribly disheartening to live in a state that has cut per pupil funding on a percentage basis the most of any state in the years following the 2008 recession just for the negative publicity it creates.

Let’s be clear: Overall, the cuts here are mainly the result of Republican extremism and the disproven idea that tax cuts automatically lead to new economic development or trickle down into the economy growing a larger tax base. The tax-cut, trickle-down ideology, still peddled by Republicans here and elsewhere, is directly responsible for the financial mess here in Oklahoma.

In a report released last week, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that Oklahoma has cut per pupil spending in public schools by 26.9 percent from 2008 to 2017, which is the current fiscal budget year. That’s an incredible number.

For some perspective, the state with the second highest cuts to per pupil spending is Alabama, which “only” cut 14.2 percent, during those same years. Contrast that as well with the fact that North Dakota has raised per pupil spending by 27.2 percent from 2008 to 2017.

The report notes that many factors have led to steep declines in school funding in many states, but here’s an important paragraph in the report:

Not only did many states avoid raising new revenue after the recession hit, but some enacted large tax cuts, further reducing revenues. Five of the eight states with the biggest cuts in general school funding since 2008 ― Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin ― have also cut income tax rates in recent years.

Republicans and their apologists here continue to insist that the downturn in the oil and gas industry is to blame for Oklahoma’s current budget nightmare, but the recent income tax cuts that primarily benefit the rich and tax breaks given to energy companies during the fracking mini-boom here has made the real difference in the magnitude of the cuts to education.

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