This is a blog of populist and liberal information and ideas, advancing the cause of truth and justice while fighting the ugly tyranny of right-wing oppression in Oklahoma and its surrounding environs.

Henry Should Veto Abortion Reporting Bill

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(Update: Since this was initially posted, legislators working on the budget said they would appropriate an extra $2.5 million to the Public Safety Department to avoid trooper furloughs.)

State legislators crafted a budget for next year that could lead to state trooper furloughs, but somehow they came up with $280,000 to harass women seeking abortions.

So it goes in red state Oklahoma these days . . .

House Bill 1595, which has passed the House and Senate, requires the state to spend $280,000 to fund a reporting system for all abortions performed in Oklahoma. Under the law, doctors would have to submit detailed information about each woman seeking an abortion. This information— identities would supposedly be protected—would then be published on a public web site.

The bill, which has been supported by the pro-life movement, also makes it illegal to obtain an abortion based on the gender of a fetus.

Gov. Brad Henry should veto the bill. As I wrote earlier in the Oklahoma Gazette, the bill seems designed to harass women seeking abortions and doctors who performed them. Some people have even raised questions about whether women could get identified if they live in a small town.

The bill also seems like the first step in a process that could lead to fully identifying women who have abortions. The information, at least in the immediate future, will obviously be politicized and controlled to some degree by pro-life legislators. If the bill makes it into law, women seeking abortions in Oklahoma should think twice about how their personal information could be used in the future.

The bill primarily targets impoverished women. Women with enough money can always get an abortion in another state while poor women might not be able to travel.

Proponents of the bill say the information is needed to study the abortion issue, but surely there are other ways to collect medical information that guarantee privacy.

The fetus gender issue in the bill is also unnecessary. Do some Oklahoma women seek abortions based on the gender of their fetuses? It seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, the legislative agreement for next year’s budget contains cuts that might force Oklahoma Highway Patrol Troopers to take six furlough days next year, according to NewsOK.com.

Hallelujah! Obama Saves Oklahoma

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President Barack Obama’s approval rating might be low in the state, but it’s not because he hasn’t done anything to help Oklahoma.

The president’s signature fiscal stimulus plan has helped the state government avoid a complete budget disaster for next year and increased funding for education. The plan is also creating jobs through a wide variety of road construction projects. It has helped stabilized some health programs. Overall, the state is expected to receive $2.6 billion from the president’s plan.

The legislative budget agreement reached Friday for next fiscal year does include cuts, but both common and higher education will actually get a 2 percent increase in funding because of the president’s plan. It’s difficult to exaggerate the significance of increasing educational funding during an economic downturn. When the economy is bad, people often retrain or change careers, and educational systems are the most important part of this process.

Stimulus money added $630 million to the budget, bringing it to $7.2 million, which is a slight increase over last year’s budget, according to news reports. The state also has stimulus money it can use for 2011.

The budget calls for a 7 percent cut for most agencies. This cut could have been lessened if the legislature had tapped into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which currently has close to $600 million in it. What will get cut? Will people lose their jobs? How will stagnant salaries among government workers affect the Oklahoma City and the overall state economies? Although it may seem counterintuitive, it would have been more prudent to use some of the Rainy Day money now in order to put more money into economy to help create jobs. The legislature should have also increased taxes slightly on Oklahoma’s highest income earners.

Here is OKPolicyBlog's first take on the budget agreement:

The Legislature and Governor are to be commended for their commitment to protecting key public services and their willingness to use federal stimulus dollars to make up for a portion of the shortfall in state revenues. But the steep cuts and funding gaps that most agencies will face in the coming year will leave financially-strapped agencies less capable of fulfilling their missions, whether protecting the public safety, administering justice, regulating businesses to protect consumers, providing care to the needy, or educating children.

Nonetheless, Obama’s plan did work for Oklahoma. Everyone can agree the budget situation would have been much worse without the stimulus money. So why are the president’s approval ratings low here? Nationwide, the president has a 67 percent approval rating, according to Gallup. In Oklahoma, it stands at 47 percent, according to a recent Sooner Poll.

One reason for Obama's low numbers here is that the Oklahoma corporate media has not thoroughly acknowledged how much the president’s plan would help the state's floundering economy. That will be more difficult to do now that the state budget shows tangible results of Obama’s rescue.

Oklahoma, known as a beggar or recipient state, gets far more money back from the federal government than it pays to it. For every dollar paid in federal taxes, Oklahoma receives $1.48. This fact is rarely mentioned in local teabagger rhetoric and on the editorial page of The Oklahoman. Government has always been the solution—never the problem—for Oklahoma, at least when it comes to money.

Oklahoma Faces Financial Slump

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In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?--from Woody Guthrie's song "This Land Is Your Land"

The recession has finally come to Oklahoma, and the looming question is whether the state can get through this fiscal year without budget cuts.

State Treasurer Scott Meacham recently reported a 21.6 percent decline in April revenues from a year ago and 21.1 percent below the budget estimate. If May revenues plummet drastically, it may mean automatic state budget cuts this year. This is extremely bad news for the state, which faces a budget shortfall for next fiscal year as well.

This is what Meacham said about the decline, according to a press release issued by his office:

The April numbers were not particularly good. We experienced lower income tax, motor vehicle and gross production collections that are reflective of the national recession and its continued effects in Oklahoma. We did see some bright news this month as sales tax collections were higher than the same month last year.

In recent years, legislators have passed tax cuts that have primarily benefited rich people. These tax cuts, which were supposed to help the economy, have now come back to haunt the state as agencies prepare for cuts next year. What will be cut? Will people lose their jobs? Why haven’t the tax cuts spurred new economic activity as advertised by the neoconservatives and market fundamentalists?

This financial slump could be a big setback for Oklahoma, which already lags behind the nation in funding education and often ranks low in health categories.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Oklahomans are relying on food stamps to get by. The number of people receiving food stamps is now at an all-time high and could rise even more as the recession continues. Unemployment has increased as well.

The state will need responsible leadership to help it get through what looks like will be an extended financial slump. Those political leaders who pushed for the recent tax cuts for rich people should set aside their agenda momentarily and consider the state’s most vulnerable citizens. They should also consider that Oklahoma has consistently underfunded education.

Gov. Brad Henry, early in his tenure, provided stable and common sense leadership during an economic slump. The state needs his leadership again.

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