Fallin Budget Proposal Falls Far Short

Image of Mary Fallin

While I can appreciate to some degree that Gov. Mary Fallin’s latest budget proposal offers increases for education funding next fiscal year it falls far short in providing schools truly adequate financial resources.

In addition, the different components of her proposal represent a problem in itself just for its sheer multiplicity and perhaps intentional and unnecessary complication and obfuscation and there is absolutely no guarantee any of it will get passed or even considered by the Oklahoma Legislature.

Politically, it does allow Fallin to claim she’s trying to stave off a growing education disaster and thus head off support for State Question 779, a ballot initiative that would raise the state sales tax by one penny, which would exclusively raise funding for education by $615 million annually and give much needed $5,000 raises to teachers. Perhaps, all Fallin’s proposal was intended to do was to ensure Oklahoma teachers don’t get raises now or for years to come.

I think it’s very intentional and highly calculated that Fallin trotted out her new plan-to-nowhere as a large group of educators were registering to run for the legislature this election and getting their group photo snapped near the do-nothing-but-cray-cray Republican-dominated Oklahoma House and Senate.

Conservatives broke Oklahoma and they want to hide it during this election year.

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Brain Drain Officially Commences In Oklahoma

Untitled acrylic and mixed media on canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1984

So another Oklahoma brain drain officially begins.

This is when a lot of teachers and other intellectuals leave the state because they either can’t find jobs here or they’re paid so poorly here they almost have to go elsewhere because other states will pay them much more money.

This brain drain has been brought to you by conservative policies that have led to a current revenue failure and a $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next fiscal year, which begins in July. Teacher and other school positions are getting eliminated in droves and the oil and gas industry layoffs—some of those fired people are highly educated as well—continue. It’s a real disaster.

Here’s how the conservatives created the brain drain:

In recent years, they cut income taxes, cuts that primarily benefited the rich. They also handed out major tax breaks to the oil and gas industry. They encouraged that industry’s reckless production policies through the GOP “drill, baby, drill” mantra, and that has led to a worldwide fossil fuel glut and a decline in gross production tax revenue here. It’s bad times here for a lot of people.

I realize you can go back to the governance of former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, when it comes to the income tax cuts, but here are the two caveats: (1) Democrat and conservative are not mutually exclusive words in Oklahoma, and (2) Henry’s actions were a compromise with Republicans when the state’s coffers were full many years ago.

The impact of a brain drain cannot be understated. Obviously, it means schools and universities will be stretched thin, and students can expect larger class sizes, and, in some cases, less personal attention. College tuition will go up. But what a brain drain also does is lower the overall quality of life in any given place and create a real leadership vacuum. The leadership pool shrinks, and that trickles down and impacts all sorts of lives.

I’m encouraged that some Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Scott Inman, are calling the conservatives out on their reckless financial policies, but, as I’ve been writing here, it needs to happen on just about a daily basis. If we get anything out of this, then at least let it be that more people wake up to the fact they’re voting against their own interests.

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I think there’s a real chance for some progressive gains this election season in Oklahoma for a variety of reasons, but it’s probably not going to happen if liberals spend money and energy supporting The Oklahoma Observer in its present form, or The Oklahoma Policy Institute in any form whatsoever.

One reason for the “chance,” and, yes, it’s just a slight chance, is that the national Republican Party is a real mess right now with the Trump and Cruz spectacles. Many conservatives are bewildered and confused. This confusion may trickle down to minor, local elections in which Democrats and liberals—in Oklahoma, folks, they aren’t the same thing—are speaking out boldly and sensibly about, say, funding for schools or trying to prevent elderly people from getting kicked out of nursing homes.

The other reason for the chance is that Oklahoma conservative leaders have absolutely broken this state with their careless, reckless fiscal policies. The economy is sinking here, the state is in a revenue failure, and we’re facing a $1.3 billion budget shortfall in a tiny overall discretionary budget of less than $7 or $6 billion or so. I know there are some not-so-smart people in the Oklahoma leadership pool, such as David Blatt, but it’s so so obvious the conservatives have damaged this state in a major way. Everyone gets it even if they relish it, like they do at the conservative Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and The Oklahoman. I bet Blatt loves it, too.

But progressives and Democrats—again, these words are really exclusive—face two major obstacles in bringing about change. One is The Oklahoma Observer, which needs to immediately modernize its corny hard-copy layout and web site and start really speaking truth to power. Editor Arnold Hamilton, a nice enough intelligent guy, has dropped the ball and made a mess out of Frosty Troy’s legacy. People have approached both of them about modernizing The Observer cornball approach in order to attract a younger audience, but they are reluctant. I’ll give Frosty the benefit of the doubt because he deserves it as the founder of the publication many, many years ago. I grant no such concession to Hamilton. What does the guy even do each day? He writes about three pieces a month, including the ancient, outdated Observerscope. Dart: To Arnold Hamilton for laziness. I write many more words than you, and I teach FULL-TIME and direct a graduate studies program in my academic department. I feel like you’re lazy and arrogant. Certainly, lazy, folks. I get it that “arrogant” is subjective. I get it that you might think I’m arrogant, too. The truth is arrogant. Miss Truth, she don’t play well with others.

So here’s Miss Truth having a nice feel-good shoutout: Four of us in the Oklahoma City community—two active local working journalists, a technology expert and a tremendous line editor, approached Frosty Troy in the early 2000s and offered our services for FREE to get The Observer online. See, we wanted to do something for our state and make this a better place. We were summarily dismissed as ridiculous and outlandish people. By cracky, we’ll see if this here Internet thing is going anywhere says the great Frosty Troy, who later anointed Arnold Hamilton to destroy his and his late wife’s legacies. We weren’t even given the time of day to make our case. Three of those people live in much better cities than Oklahoma City right now and are highly successful. I’m stuck here facing state budget cuts that affect me greatly trying to get Arnold Hamilton to write more and modernize his cornball publication. Yes, I would trade places with them, and, no, I don’t hold out much hope Hamilton will up his game. Who knows about Frosty? Maybe Hamilton is keeping him behind the pay wall. Has anyone checked recently?

So let me make it a public proposal: I will assemble a team of people to modernize The Observer. If this doesn’t fit Hamilton’s archaic business and old-fashioned model, which we would work around at his SAME or MORE level of pay or income, then fine. I will then urge everyone to stop supporting the cornball publication financially as much as I can. The publication is a joke, a compilation of cornball humor and three-week-old Internet articles, all for only $40 a year. Yeah, right. The problem is that The Observer wastes financial resources and has zero street credibility. Give that $40 a year to a real progressive site, and, no, I’m not talking about Okie Funk. This is my personal intellectual territory, my mind and body. Let’s start a real, modern site that might attract younger people and give us some momentum. I will help as much as I can, but there’s only so many progressive dollars here, and Hamilton is taking a lot of them and producing a really bad product. It’s shameful and immoral.

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