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Spoiled Oklahoma

Image of Oklahoma State Capitol

Recently compiled statistical information confirms Oklahoma continues to rely heavily on the federal government for its financial viability and maybe its very existence.

This comes against the backdrop of all the anti-federal government whining among conservatives here about overspending and deficits in Washington, D.C. Here are some questions: If Oklahoma paid its fair share to the federal government, what would happen to its health and education systems? What would happen to the economy? Could it even exist as an independent state?

Without help from taxpayers from other states, such as New York, Oklahoma would lose approximately $12.5 billion a year if it got back dollar for dollar what it paid to the federal government each year in income, payroll, business, excise and estate taxes. Last year, the entire state budget for Oklahoma was only $7.1 billion.

The information comes from State Smart, an online, interactive site published by the National Priorities Project, which describes itself as a . . . “non-partisan research organization dedicated to making complex federal budget information transparent and accessible so people can prioritize and influence how their tax dollars are spent.”

Here’s how State Smart breaks down the numbers from Oklahoma: Using data from the most recent years available, Oklahoma received an estimated $38.6 billion from the federal government, which includes $7.6 billion for programs like Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; $22.2 billion in payments and grants for programs such as Social Security and Medicare and Pell Grants; $2.1 billion in federal contracts; and $6.7 billion for the salaries and benefits of federal employees.

Oklahomans and the state’s businesses paid in $26.1 billion to the federal government during the same time period, with more than 75 percent coming from individual and payroll taxes. That’s a $12.5 billion difference, with Oklahoma on the receiving end.

By comparison, the state of New York, using the same calculations, received $191.6 billion from the federal government yet paid in $207.4 billion. That means New Yorkers paid an estimated $15.8 billion more in taxes that they received back from the federal government, which is more than enough to fund Oklahoma’s shortfall.

According to the available statistics that have calculated this information through the years, Oklahoma has long been known as a “receiver state,” or a state that receives more back from the federal government than it pays in federal taxes. In itself, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this system. The country needs the federal highway system and federal outposts, such as courts, offices and military bases, in all the states. Some states will always have to give more to support the country as a whole. This helps keep our country’s democracy functioning.

But what should continue to aggravate progressives and, really, everyone here is the relentless criticism by some conservatives about the overspending of the federal government and the push on the state level for more tax cuts for Oklahoma’s wealthy.

I’m reminded especially of Gov. Mary Fallin’s argument in a recent State of the State speech that Oklahoma has something to teach the federal government about fiscal responsibility and her recent campaign television advertisements bashing the federal Affordable Care Act. Is the lesson that you should criticize a larger and more powerful entity that basically provides for your financial viability, that, let’s face it, actually provides for your existence? It’s as if Oklahoma is an immature, spoiled child complaining about his/her generous and loving parents. Remember, that’s $12.5 billion spoiled.

The anti-federal government rhetoric here is hollow and shallow. It’s reductionist sloganeering. It’s not rooted in reality. It’s hypocritical. It’s not helpful for the vast majority of Oklahomans, only the wealthy and conservative politicians pandering to low-information voters so they can get elected. It’s dumb.

The truth is Oklahoma, with its low taxes and its budget of only $7 billion or so, remains a state with poor medical outcomes and health systems, dreadfully underfunded education systems, extreme costly weather disasters and rotting infrastructure, and the only thing that keeps it afloat are tax dollars that come from other states.

The following question is purely speculative and philosophical. Could the state even exist as a separate entity if the billions of dollars provided by taxpayers from other states were eliminated, the Oklahoma legislature continued to reduce state revenue through tax cuts for rich people and the recent oil and gas fracking boom here went bust? I believe it would certainly create a new mass exodus from the state.

Sure, it’s difficult to imagine all that happening at once or Oklahoma becoming a part of Texas or part of a newly formed state carved out among other receiver states or perhaps even a federal territory again, but more extreme events in history have happened and will happen in the future.

Local Screening Scheduled For Young Turks Film

Image of Cenk Uygur

Mad As Hell, a documentary film outlining the creation of the revolutionary digital network The Young Turks has been scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 screening at Oklahoma City’s Quail Springs Mall 24 theater.

People can reserve and/or purchase their $10 tickets through the Gathr Films site here. A minimum number of ticket reservations and purchases is necessary for the screening to happen. No one will be charged, however, if the quota isn’t met.

I’m helping to bring attention to this event because The Young Turks network has truly revolutionized the digital news and video entertainment industry through the numerous avant-garde shows that appear on its Internet site. Founded by Cenk Uygur, pictured right, the network anticipated the growing viewer transition from traditional television channels to Internet-based video platforms, such as Hulu and YouTube.

Uygur hosts the network’s flagship program, also named The Young Turks. Overall, according to its site, the network receives more than 68 million page views per month.

Jay Hansen, a local representative of The Young Turks, said Uygur has expressed an interest in attending and speaking at all the film’s screenings throughout the country, and that it’s likely he will attend the one in Oklahoma City if it happens.

The Young Turks site presents an American Heritage Dictionary to help define its name and mission:

1. Young progressive or insurgent member of an institution, movement, or political party.

2. Young person who rebels against authority or societal expectations.

One of Uygur’s missions, for example, is to help reform campaign financing laws because of “money’s damaging influence on our government.”

Mad As Hell focuses on the struggles Uygur endured while creating his show and the network. Here's a trailer for the film.

Global Warming Matters In Oklahoma

Image of wind turbines

NASA pointed out last week that the planet has just experienced the hottest six months on record, fanning fears the pace of global warming is accelerating.

The six-month period stretches from April through September. The months April, May, June and August were the hottest recorded for those months in history. According to one meteorologist who writes for Slate, “. . . global temperatures may have already passed a level that human civilization has never experienced.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon last week issued a report outlining how climate change should be a current factor in determining how the United States military should operate. One risk of climate change, for example, is the destabilization of foreign governments because of famine caused by drought or another major severe weather event, which can lead to unrest and extremism.

All this might seem far removed from Oklahoma, but that’s not the case for these following reasons:

(1) Just because it was a relatively cooler summer this year in Oklahoma doesn’t mean that it wasn’t steaming hot in other places on the planet or that overall mean temperatures didn’t increase. It’s the overall, larger frame that counts when it comes to global warming, not the day-to-day weather conditions. These new statistics could portend events and crises that could have a major impact in the state over the long term. Major ecological disasters, for example, could severely impact the world economy, which, in turn, could devastate Oklahoma’s own economy.

(2) Although Oklahoma experienced a relatively cooler and rainy summer, as I mentioned, extreme drought conditions persist in western Oklahoma, threatening water supplies and affecting agriculture. Is this related to climate change or just part of a multi-year cycle? It just makes common sense to at least consider factors such as increasing world temperatures when dealing with this question.

(3) Oklahoma continues to experience a record number of earthquakes, which scientists argue are caused by the injection well process used in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, drilling method. The burning of fossil fuels, which then become carbon emissions, is at the heart of manmade global warming. So Oklahoma gets it both ways. The release of climate-changing fossil fuels from the ground also threatens the safety and property of Oklahoma residents through the potential of major earthquakes.

(4) U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who is on track for reelection this year in Oklahoma, is one of the world’s most well known deniers of manmade global warming despite the growing evidence that the planet is perilously close to major disasters because of climate change. Inhofe, it should be noted, has received more than $400,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 2009. Let’s be clear that a vote for Inhofe is a vote for an unregulated oil and gas industry that can do massive damage to the environment without penalty.

Drought and earthquakes here, combined with local political leaders who don’t believe in the scientific method, means Oklahomans have much at stake as the world grows hotter through the carbon emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Given the circumstances, it only makes sense here to increase the development of renewable energy sources that have less of a negative impact on the environment and to ban fracking entirely as some communities across the world have already done.

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