Will Rock N’ Roll, Cigs Save Oklahoma Education?


Any Oklahomans who really thought it was going to be a cakewalk giving public school teachers $3,000 annual raises while balancing the state budget with taxes on rock n’ roll and cigarettes as outlined by Gov. Mary Fallin in her State of the State address Monday should read an Associated Press article about a Senate Finance Committee meeting shortly after the governor’s remarks.

Here’s the key paragraph in the article written by AP writer Sean Murphy:

. . . while tapping some of the hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of tax incentives and credits is tempting for budget writers looking to close the funding gap, the political reality is that each of the incentives has a constituency prepared to fiercely defend them.

Fallin didn’t really address what the article calls the “political reality” in her remarks Monday that opened up the legislative session. She wants the state to start to collect sales tax money, for example, on digital music purchases. The governor also is advocating raising taxes on cigarettes by $1.50 a pack. These proposals and others are supposedly going to make up for the approximate $1 billion budget shortfall and growing the state faces for next fiscal year and provide $3,000 raises for teachers.

The AP article points out the Senate committee voted against a bill that would prohibit some companies from getting tax breaks using the Quality Jobs Program and then also using another tax break for “investments that create new jobs.” One legislator called it “double dipping.” The committee did, however, pass a measure reducing tax incentives for developers of clean energy in the form of wind power. The two votes considered together represent backwards thinking in its purest form.

So do we have enough money yet for the teacher raises? Well, not quite.

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Omission Accomplished For Fallin: Shaky Proposals With Exceptions

Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State address Monday didn’t even mention Oklahoma’s earthquake crisis.

That was probably the most glaring omission in a speech that offered mostly proposed generalities about increasing revenue to meet an expected budget shortfall of approximately $1 billion next fiscal year, which begins in July.

To her credit, Fallin did propose $3,000 annual raises for the state’s public school teachers, and she did offer some good ideas or starting points for good ideas about prison-sentencing reform. But can the state really generate the money for the raises under Fallin’s budget framework and will GOP law-and-order conservatives, who dominate the legislature, really adopt major corrections reform that would eliminate or lower sentences for non-violent drug offenders?

I don't want to be negative, but, frankly, I don’t see that it’s likely in either case. I hope I’m proved wrong.

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Legislators Should Focus On Budget Crisis, Earthquake Emergency

Image of Picasso work

It’s unfortunately notable The Oklahoman in an editorial over the weekend about the legislative session that starts today failed to even mention the state’s manmade earthquake crisis.

The newspaper’s Sunday editorial huffed and puffed about about how “business as usual is not an option” given the state’s current revenue failure and an expected budget shortfall of $900 million and growing for next fiscal year. It also trotted out its usual conservative mush while admittedly suggesting some decent and obvious established ideas along the way, such as corrections reform.

But nary a word about how Oklahoma has become the most earthquake-prone place in the world over the last few years.

The earthquake crisis here is a major problem that state leaders, including Gov. Mary Fallin, have failed to adequately address. Meanwhile, hundreds of earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude shook things up here last year and continue to do so. That doesn’t even count the smaller quakes that might go unfelt but could obviously collectively contribute to property damage over a longer period of time.

Some people might argue that state leaders are trying and that the language “ . . . have failed to adequately address” is hyperbole or biased. But here’s the deal: The quakes keep growing in number since the 5.6-magnitude quake struck near Prague in 2011. It's more than four years later since that large quake, and we’ve gone from bad to worse to a major crisis. That’s a failure of government leadership, and it includes Fallin, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) and, yes, the GOP-dominated legislature.

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