Budget Agreement Contains Targeted Cuts

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The recent state budget deal still calls for significant cuts, but one-time money—federal stimulus funds and Rainy Day Fund money—helped avert a devastating catastrophe.

The $6.6 billion budget will mean 5 to 7 percent cuts for many state agencies in fiscal year 2011. This comes after huge cuts this fiscal year. Some agencies, such as Common Education, Higher Education, Public Safety, Corrections and Mental Health Services will receive smaller cuts, ranging from 0.5 to 3.3 percent.

David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, recently wrote about the reality facing state agencies:

Many agencies will be facing additional cuts of 5 to 7 percent in FY ‘11 on top of the 10 to 14 percent cuts already enacted in FY ‘10. Even agencies that have been cut less than the full 15 to 20 percent will face severe challenges in fulfilling their fundamental missions with reduced resources, particularly given mandatory increases for employee health care and retirement costs, general inflation, and in some cases, new mandates and growing caseloads.

Blatt also pointed out that the use of one-time money pushes the budget problem “further down the road,” although continued revenue growth could help. What does this mean for the 2012 and 2013 budgets?

According to a press release, Gov. Brad Henry, who has spent his last year in office dealing with the state’s financial crisis, had this to say about the budget agreement:

In the face of a historic revenue shortfall, this was a very difficult and painful budget to craft, but I am proud that we were able to strike an agreement that largely protects the core services that are so important to Oklahomans and the state’s economic recovery. All levels of public education and our classroom teachers in particular play such an important role in this state’s economic future that it was critical to shield them from the deepest cuts, and we did that.

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Extremism Check

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Gov. Brad Henry’s recent veto of the Statistical Abortion Report Act bill was another sensible and prudent move against a backdrop of extremist GOP-sponsored bills that have defined the 2010 legislative session.

House Bill 3284, sponsored by state Rep. Pam Peterson (R-Tulsa), would require women in Oklahoma to fill out a lengthy questionnaire before they receive an abortion. The information would then be published on a web site maintained by the state. The bill’s alleged purpose is to collect research information about abortions, but it’s really just another way to harass and intimidate women seeking the procedure.

According to media reports, Henry’s veto message included this:

By forcing rape and incest victims to submit to a personally invasive questionnaire and posting the answers on a state website, this legislation will only increase the trauma of an already traumatic event. Victims of such horrific acts should be treated with dignity and respect in such situations, as should all people.

Requiring patients to publicly reveal highly intimate and personal details of their lives to obtain a medical procedure protected by this nation’s highest court constitutes an unconstitutional invasion of privacy and barrier to legal medical treatment.

Henry vetoed two other abortion-related bills this session. One bill would require women to have an ultrasound before the procedure and listen to a detailed description of it. The other bill prohibits women from collecting lawsuit damages if a physician withheld crucial information about their fetuses. The GOP-controlled legislature later voted to override Henry’s two vetoes.

Henry has also vetoed other extremist legislation that would allow Oklahoman to openly carry weapons and to allow the state to opt-out of the new federal health care program. The legislature sustained those two vetoes.

In his last year in office, Henry continues to check extremists who are intent on destroying Oklahoma’s image by passing ultra-conservative, freaky legislation that draws scrutiny and criticism from national media outlets.

As I’ve written before, Henry’s actions show how important it is that Oklahomans elect a Democrat as governor this year. If the Republicans leading candidate for governor—U.S. Rep Mary Fallin—gets elected, and the GOP maintains its majorities in the House and Senate, the 2011 legislative session will produce an avalanche of extremist bills that damage the state’s image.

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When Low Taxes Mean Socialism

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I wonder what type of signs the local Tea Partiers will come up with for their next rally at the state Capitol now that this news is out:

From USA TODAY:

Amid complaints about high taxes and calls for a smaller government, Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman's presidency, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data found.

Some conservative political movements such as the "Tea Party" have criticized federal spending as being out of control. While spending is up, taxes have fallen to exceptionally low levels.

This doesn’t necessarily mean taxes will stay this low, but it’s important to note the Tea Party rhetoric ignores the fact that some of the stimulus funds paid for tax cuts. Why wouldn’t Tea Party members now want to pay that money back to the government? Isn’t it tainted with the stench of socialism? Wouldn’t that be consistent with their argument?

Sure, people can make an argument about the growing deficit, one started under former President George W. Bush, but this recent information, again, shows the Tea Party movement is really not a movement based on much of anything, except fear mongering, slippery slope arguments and, yes, racism. (This is not to imply every Tea Partier is a racist.)

The information also brings up this question again: Why are the Tea Partiers so angry? They’re paying the lowest taxes in 60 years. How could that possibly drive people to fits of anger as they label President Barack Obama a socialist?

I opposed the Wall Street bank bailouts, but they worked. Financial experts are predicting the U.S. will actually make a profit on its loans to the banking industry. Now General Motors, which also received a government bailout, is reporting profits and paying back government loans.

So, let’s see, the bailouts for private industry worked, the stimulus funds paid for tax cuts, the economy continues to improve and Americans are paying the lowest in taxes in decades, but for Tea Partiers this means the country is on the dark slide to socialism.

How long can the Tea Party movement get away with ignoring the basic reality on the ground and still attract new followers?

Maybe Democrats aren’t going to do as bad in the November elections as everyone is predicting right now.

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