Every Resisting Voice

The ongoing Oklahoma budget crisis, which now threatens the very viability of our public schools, was created by conservative ideology and basic malfeasance.

Let’s be clear: The Republican Political Party here has broken the state in ways that may well last for a generation or more. The state has cut funding to public education the most on a percentage basis of any state since 2008. It cut higher education funding last year by nearly 16 percent. Gov. Mary Fallin has refused to accept federal Medicaid expansion, leading to even more health problems in a state with terrible medical access. Conservatives fill up the state prisons while children’s stomachs remain empty.

All this is done under the flawed ideology of cutting taxes for rich people in the supposed belief the money will trickle down and create jobs and opportunities. That’s a big fat lie, perpetuated for decades by conservatives. I don’t think most conservative politicians here even believe it. I believe they just want to serve the rich so they can get campaign donations and get reelected.

The Oklahoma Legislature under complete domination by Republicans has slashed the state income tax, a slow drip of cuts that have primarily benefitted the rich. Conservatives have passed out tax breaks to oil and gas companies as well. All this has lead to another huge, looming budget shortfall next fiscal year—estimated at $878 million in an approximate $7 billion budget—and an immediate revenue failure, which means public education will receive yet another $11.1 million cut.

It’s simply not sustainable. Teachers here are leaving in droves to teach in other states that will pay them more money and give them more respect. The state pays money to public universities—a decreasing amount, of course, made up by tuition increases—to train and educate many of these teachers and they then leave here. Obviously, people will leave Oklahoma for different reasons, but why are we training teachers for other states?

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Where Is The Money For Teacher Raises?

The real question to ask about potential teacher raises next year in Oklahoma is whether the Republican majority in the legislature is serious about finding the money to fund them or if it’s just another GOP meaningless political performance.

I tend to think it’s the latter at this point. In fact, public education and higher education funding is getting slashed once again THIS fiscal year as we found out yesterday. The state faces a revenue failure, which means revenue collections came in recently with a more than 5 percent drop over the budget estimate.

The revenue failure means an immediate $11.1 million cut for public education and a $4.6 million cut to higher education, according to a media report. This, combined with an expected $878 million shortfall for next fiscal year, probably means the grandiose plan for teacher raises is mainly political posturing.

A House committee, however, has passed a measure that, if passed and signed into law, would increase teacher salaries by $6,000 annually over three years, but there’s a huge problem with the plan. It doesn’t identify the funds to pay for it.

Gov. Mary Fallin, of course, has advanced a proposal to increase sales taxes on everything from doctor’s visits to funeral services. Perhaps, we should call these death taxes. Pay more at the doctor’s office for, let’s say, a bleak diagnosis, and then pay more for dying later. But even if the proposal passes, and I doubt it will, would it be enough to fund teacher raises? I don’t think so.

I’ll address Fallin’s plan later in this post, but I want to focus for a moment on the plan to raise teacher salaries. Under the plan, teachers would receive a $1,000 raise the first year, a $2,000 raise the next year and a $3,000 raise the following year. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this plan, although the hyperbole surrounding it seems a bit much.

For example, the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Michael Rogers, a Republican from Broken Arrow, who heads the House Education Committee, was quoted in the media like this about the plan:

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Pruitt Confirmed As EPA Head Without Full Vetting

Republicans have confirmed the appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency without a full vetting of his well-known and established ties to the oil and gas industry.

That might seem like old and expected news by now, but Pruitt has just been ordered to release hundreds of emails based on an open records request submitted about two years ago by the Center for Media and Democracy. Pruitt had stonewalled on the request, but now a local judge has ordered him to turn over the information.

Perhaps, it might seem redundant to further establish that Pruitt, as the state’s attorney general, served the interests of the oil and gas industry far more than he worked to ensure the viability and extension of the state’s environmental health.

We already know, for example, that he sent a letter to the EPA during his tenure, arguing it had over estimated the amount of air pollution coming from oil and gas activity. The letter, as we found out, was actually written by staff of Devon Energy, a local Oklahoma City firm.

We already know, too, that oil baron and billionaire Harold Hamm, the founder and chief executive officer of Continental Resources, another Oklahoma City oil and gas firm, served as an honorary chairman for Pruitt’s most recent campaign.

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