Where Is The Budget?

At this point in the current Oklahoma legislative session, I think it’s reasonable to argue that our not-so-popular conservative state leaders are waiting until the last minute to fully address the $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next fiscal year.

I think it’s also reasonable to argue that the Republicans in the legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin are probably going to implement serious cuts to state agencies, and they want to wait until the last minute so there’s less time for people and various stakeholders to organize protests or explain fully how the cuts could be devastating to ordinary Oklahomans before they go into effect. The session is scheduled to adjourn by May 27, only two working weeks away. Legislative leaders in the past have adjourned sessions several days before the adjournment date, and that could happen this time as well.

Conservatives, then, could create the carnage, and then go home and let everyone suffer through the mess they created by approving income tax cuts in recent years that primarily benefited the wealthy and by giving major tax breaks to the oil and gas industry.

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60 Minutes Reports On State Earthquake Crisis

A reporter for the television show 60 Minutes did a segment Sunday on Oklahoma’s earthquake crisis, shedding more light on a serious issue that needs to be resolved by state leaders.

What’s important to note before I discuss the segment is this: The earthquakes continue here in Oklahoma because of disposal well activity used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. In fact, there were two larger earthquakes in the state on the day the segment appeared on our television screens. A 3.6-magnitude earthquake struck a few miles west of Perry at 4:19 p.m followed by a 3.4-magnitude in the same area at 7:10 p.m.

The 60 Minutes segment was reported by Bill Whitaker, who did an excellent job just initially pointing out the huge increase in earthquakes here. (The following quote and other quotes from the segment used in this post are from the transcript of the show.) “Before 2009, there were, on average, two earthquakes a year in Oklahoma that were magnitude 3 or greater,” Whitaker reported. “Last year, there were 907. That's right, 907.” I think the “that’s right, 907” set the tone for the segment.

I also thought Whitaker did a great job interviewing Kim Hatfield, who is on the executive committee of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. Hatfield tried to downplay the role of disposal wells in the crisis. “This is something that's been going on for 60, 70 years,” Hatfield said. “And we've had-- had a sudden change. And the question is what changed.” Whitaker’s response to Hatfield was short and to the point:

The thing that's different is the amount of water that the oil industry is pumping into the Arbuckle Formation. That's what's different. And along with that difference comes these earthquakes. That's not the trigger?

Hatfield’s response should elicit groans from anyone who has felt a larger earthquake here or experienced damage to their property because of the shaking. “The injection of water is a factor,” Hatfield said. “But it is not possibly the only factor. We don't know.”

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Oklahoma Dilemma

Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Oklahoma is decisively in a lose-lose situation.

If fossil fuel prices go down, which they have over the last several months despite a recent rebound, the state’s tax revenues plummet, our poor state gets even poorer in terms of government funding and the overall economy declines. If oil and gas prices skyrocket, then the frackers go berserk, creating environmental damage, including global warming, and now the earthquakes that rattle our homes and nerves on a daily basis.

We’ve all heard of and many of us have cringed at the term “The Oklahoma Standard,” but what we really have is “The Oklahoma Dilemma.” Unless the state can really diversify its economy—energy-related employment represents around one-quarter of all jobs here—then we’re tied to the boom and bust cycle of the fossil fuel patch for years to come or until fossil fuels are reduced to just one small segment of the world’s overall energy use.

I highly doubt Oklahoma CAN diversify its economy in any major sense. For decades, state leaders have talked about such diversification, and for decades nothing has really been done primarily because it can’t be done. Our state has major structural problems, like its Tornado Alley, its anti-education bias, its crumbling infrastructure and its almost intentional lack of modernization. Oklahoma is also tied to a slowly dying industry that is getting replaced incrementally by renewable energy, such as wind power, which doesn’t have the same economic impact or create speculative boom times like the oil patch.

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