Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice criticized the state budget agreement Tuesday, arguing it “will do real harm to communities in every region of our state.”
Rice, an Oklahoma City Democrat, also noted there was bipartisan opposition to the budget legislation in the Senate, which passed it on a 26-17 vote. The budget, which was cut by $500 million over last fiscal year, contains steep cuts for education. According to the announced budget agreement, public education will receive a 4.1 percent cut and higher education will receive a 5.8 percent cut.
Rice said, “Instead of eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for special interest groups, they left middle class families to make up the difference with even higher college tuition.”
Here is Rice’s entire statement on the budget:
This is a sad day for Oklahoma. Despite bipartisan opposition to the 2012 budget, the measure was narrowly approved by the Senate on a vote of 26 to 17 on Tuesday. Republicans, who for the first time control both the executive and legislative branches of government, claim they had no choice but to slash the budget by $500 million. These are budgets that had already been cut to the bone in three previous rounds of cuts.
The truth is these cuts didn’t have to happen because there was a choice. Republicans chose to support tax credits for people who send their kids to private schools at the cost of public schools. Instead of eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for special interest groups, they left middle class families to make up the difference with even higher college tuition.
We’re already seeing public schools across Oklahoma overwhelmed with the strain of budget cuts the last two years. This is a budget that will do real harm to communities in every region of our state, and it will make our climb out of this bad economy harder and longer.
Rice’s statement doesn’t even mention the upcoming Jan. 1, 2012 income tax cut that will primarily benefit the state’s top income earners.
Let’s be clear: Republicans here are gutting the state’s educational systems, and it will take years to recover from the damage. Per pupil spending in Oklahoma public schools is already the lowest in the region and one of the lowest in the nation. Republicans argue it’s all about “shared sacrifice,” but lowering funding for a terribly underfunded educational system is a form of cultural and intellectual suicide. It is a sad day for Oklahoma.