Spinning The Budget Cuts

This is (a) low budget artwork by Duncan Hull on Flickr The Commons

I’m sure some will see this argument as trivial, but Gov. Mary Fallin’s praise of next year’s fiscal year state budget seemed overly hyperbolic and ignored a couple of key points.

In a June 1 news release about the recent legislative session, Fallin noted the $7.1 billion approved budget was “a fiscally responsible blueprint.” She also made sure everyone knew just how much money is going to education in Oklahoma:

I’m proud legislators and I were able to pass a budget in challenging times that shields common education, our largest and one of our most important expenses, from budget cuts. Under this budget, approximately 51 cents of every dollar appropriated by state government will continue to go toward education. . . .

I’m assuming that “51 cents of every dollar” has clear evidence behind it, but what Fallin doesn’t mention in the news release is that Oklahoma from 2008 to 2014 cut education funding by 23.6 percent, the most in the nation. Shielding our K through 12 educational system from budget cuts is a lot different than really investing in education and raising teacher salaries from their dismal levels. Those low salaries have helped lead to a teacher shortage here. Fallin also mentions agencies that received funding boosts, but the budget also slashed some agencies by 7.25 percent and cut higher education by 3.5 percent, which could lead to tuition hikes. The budget also uses one-time money to make ends meet and that portends a potential for another budget shortfall crisis again next year.

I realize Fallin’s statement was typical rah rah, but it’s just this type of perfunctory rhetoric that inhibits change in how we fund the state’s most important core services.

I went through the release fairly thoroughly and even did a word search of “tax,” and I could find no mention of the income tax cut from 5.25 to 5 percent that is going into effect this coming January because of a flawed budget forecast triggering system. Some estimate that cut will cost the state more than $50 million this coming fiscal year. Meanwhile, the state is cutting higher education, slashing funding elsewhere and making a big deal out of the fact it didn’t cut common education. All that is part of the state’s “fiscally responsible blueprint.” Right.

Again, I understand that some end-of-the-legislative-session praising is customary, especially when you’re the de facto Republican Party leader in a state government completely dominated by Republicans, but Fallin puts an overly joyful spin on budget cobbled together with cuts and one-time money sources. That’s the reality.

Finding Ways To Execute

Anti-Death Penalty Summit - Jan. 28, 2012 by C. Elle on Flickr Commons

The new law here making the administration of nitrogen gas the second alternative when the state executes people is simply a reminder of how barbaric the death penalty remains in Oklahoma.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill into law about 10 days ago. The bill is a response to the botched execution by lethal injection of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett last year and the dwindling supplies of drugs used in the process. Lethal injection in death penalty cases, first passed by law in Oklahoma, still remains the principal form of execution here.

Executions in Oklahoma, Florida and Alabama have recently been halted by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is hearing a case brought by Oklahoma inmates over the state’s lethal-injection process. Meanwhile, drug companies have been put under pressure to stop manufacturing the types of drugs use in lethal-injection executions or to stop supplying them to states for that purpose, and this has created a shortage.

Whatever the outcome of that court case, the death penalty, in general, and Oklahoma’s apparent zeal to apply it, remains morally dubious. The recent botched execution of Lockett—he kicked his legs while his body squirmed during the process before dying 43 minutes after the drugs were administered—put the state in the media spotlight in a negative manner once again. The nitrogen gas bill does the same thing.

There is no definitive proof that the death penalty deters crime. A study last year showed 4 percent of people sentenced to die are innocent of their crimes. Those who oppose the death penalty argue there is no painless way to kill someone, making it a form of state-sanctioned torture. The death penalty is gruesome and archaic. It’s also racist. People from minority groups are sentenced to death disproportionally higher than the rest of the population. It’s also a costly, long drawn out legal process for states, which would be better off spending more money on education rather than executing people.

The use of the death penalty has been in decline in the nation, according to the National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty, but . . . “”the flaws and failures of the death penalty are more apparent than ever.” The organization notes, “18 States and the District of Columbia do not have the death penalty” and “30 states have not carried out an execution in the last 5 years.”

Oklahoma, unfortunately, has been in the media spotlight on this issue for decades. The majority of its lawmakers through the years have adopted a radical retribution mentality when it comes to crime. This is why the state has some of the highest incarceration rates in the country.

The bill passed and signed into law makes nitrogen “hypoxia” the second back-up method of execution, followed by the electric chair and a firing squad. The Washington Post recently reported, “It is not clear if nitrogen gas has been used as a formal method of execution before, but there do not appear to be any cases.”

Proponents of the bill say death by nitrogen gas is painless, but no one can definitely know that. The only people who would know that for sure would be dead.

I’m against the death penalty, but I realize the nation has historically debated this issue and now seems slowly but surely on a path to end it. What seems clear, however, is that Oklahoma’s national image has been damaged recently by Lockett’s botched execution and now its obsession with quickly finding a new way to kill people. With Oklahoma in the national television news these days for a variety of negative reasons, this is something the state just doesn’t need.

Is Fallin ACA Op-Ed A Signal?

Image of Gov. Mary Fallin

“We hope that Congress would offer targeted, temporary relief for people to maintain their current coverage while we work together on free-market, consumer-friendly solutions for the future.”—Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin in a recent opinion article in the Tulsa World

Is Gov. Mary Fallin signaling to the U.S. Supreme Court that she and other Republican governors actually want it to uphold the tax-credit features of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while saving political face with their voter bases?

It sure seems that way, and it’s incredibly hypocritical and crass politics at its most manipulative. In a recent opinion piece, Fallin argued if the court finds for the plaintiff in King versus Burwell, she wants “relief” for Oklahomans now covered under the ACA, which mean, in effect, she wants it to continue at least temporarily. The word “relief” is an important one for its symbolic connotations.

Look at the circumstances. Fallin is a second-term lame duck governor, who hasn’t really expressed an interest in running for office again. She’s also from one of the reddest states in the nation. Fallin can simply qualify her argument while giving cover to other Republican governors, who are still politically viable.

Are you listening, SCOTUS, are you listening?

The court has heard arguments over whether people should qualify for tax credits when they buy insurance under (ACA) in those states that didn’t establish health care exchanges. It’s a bizarre, right-wing quibble. The law states the tax credits will come from “an Exchange established by the State.” In context, it should be clear that by the State (note the caps), the law means the entire federal government, along with states, but conservatives ague the language means those credits should only go to people in “states” (note the lower case) that established exchanges.

Most states—34 of them in all, which includes Oklahoma—did not establish exchanges but millions of people who live in these states have bought health insurance through “the State” or the federal exchange and received tax credits through the Internal Revenue Service. That includes nearly 125,000 Oklahomans, according to recent media reports.

Fallin, of course, criticized the ACA in her commentary, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has filed lawsuits against it. But she’s clear on this point:

We hope that Congress would offer targeted, temporary relief for people to maintain their current coverage while we work together on free-market, consumer-friendly solutions for the future.

In other words, please continue the ACA until we find something better, but Republicans don’t have a viable plan upon which they can agree and never will. Everyone on the court knows that. The ACA already offers “free market and consumer-friendly solutions.” It’s certainly not the universal, single payer system this country so desperately needs.

It’s clear if Republicans are successful with the court in cutting the health insurance of some portion of more than 11 million people, they will face a political disaster. Locally, it might just make more of those 125,000 Oklahoman vote, and they would have a good reason to vote against Republicans for ruining their health care. At the same time, these Republicans have demonized the ACA so much, they risk looking like tremendous hypocrites if they just simply conceded that the ACA is working.

Some might think my interpretation of Fallin’s editorial on the larger, national political level is a stretch, but as much energy as she and Pruitt have used criticism of the ACA as a political cudgel and to win votes, she sure comes across as the ultimate hypocrite.

Syndicate content