State of the Capitol, State of the State
Yesterday in her State of the State address, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin made a big splash used vivid imagery to describe the condition of our Capitol Building:
Just as it’s our responsibility to help maintain a motivated and skilled workforce in state government, it’s also our responsibility to maintain and preserve state buildings and assets.
In the case of the state Capitol, we are failing in that goal.
In fact, this building has become a safety hazard. We are doing a great disservice to our state and its citizens by allowing the Capitol to crumble around us.
The exterior is falling apart, to the point where we must actually worry about state employees and visitors – including teachers and students on field trips – being hit by falling pieces of the façade.
The yellow barriers outside are an eyesore and an embarrassment.
The electrical system is dangerously outdated.
And guys, the water stains you’ve seen on some of the walls downstairs? I have bad news for you. That’s not just water.
Raw sewage is literally leaking into our basement. On “good” days, our visitors and employees can only see the disrepair. On bad days, they can smell it.
We must begin repairing the People’s House now.
As the façade crumbles and the basement fills, we see the impact of decades of neglect – of the mentality that this problem can be fixed later. We can make many parallel statements about the condition of public education in Oklahoma.
The truth about public education these days – in Oklahoma or in so many other states – is that politicians are using the façade in a load-bearing capacity. Reforms such as the Common Core, A-F Report Cards, high-stakes testing for students, and teacher evaluations tied to test scores are get the big bucks while the people who spend every day teaching your children continue to be ignored.
Fallin’s proposed budget (complete with images of wall stains on the cover) includes $50 million additional for education. Unfortunately, it does not contain any detail about which programs would get the additional funding. In contrast, Superintendent Barresi and the State Board of Education have requested an increase of nearly $175 million, which includes a bump to the funding formula of more than $65 million.
At least Barresi’s budget has details, although evident in them is a preference for programs over people. Neither of these two politicians has proposed a funding level that will help schools restore what has been lost over the last six years.
Fallin also praised the exceptional turnaround that has occurred at US Grant High School over the last several years. She fails to mention in this praise, however, that the school received a grant of nearly $5.1 million – from the detested federal government – in 2010, and that said funds precipitated the turnaround. Yes, the leadership and teachers at the school did the work, but with a massive infusion of funding. Money matters. It always will.
Regarding safe rooms for schools, Fallin’s position is that districts can just raise their own funds for that. She supports a measure that will allow districts to increase property taxes for one time only and surpass the 10 percent bonded indebtedness currently allowable. This sounds great if you don’t know facts. Some school districts simply don’t have the taxable property for this to be feasible.
During the 2011-12 school year, there were 156 school districts in Oklahoma that had no bonded indebtedness. While on average, districts had $42,215 per pupil in property valuation, that figure ranged from $2,603 to $519,626. In short, some districts are much better situated to improve their facilities, including the ability to install storm shelters. Keeping children safe is a concern that impacts all of Oklahoma’s communities – not just the ones with the means to pay for storm shelters. Fallin’s plan does not consider this reality.
Meanwhile, she’s blocking a plan by her potential opponent this fall to use a bond issue to provide schools with the money to build shelters. No, she’d rather use the bond money to fix the Capitol. Here’s how she framed it:
The best, most realistic way to accomplish this is through a bond issue.
A bond issue could not come at a better time. Interest rates are low. Most importantly, 41 percent of the state’s bond indebtedness will come off the books in 2018, and over 86 percent will be eliminated in the next 13 years.
July of this year will represent the 100-year anniversary of the groundbreaking of this building. Let’s make sure we can celebrate that historic landmark knowing that we have taken action to improve its condition, not sit idly by while it crumbles and falls apart.
Passing a bond issue is the right thing to do. I have put money towards bond issue payments in my executive budget, and I’m asking the Legislature to pass a bond issue and send it to my desk as soon as possible.
That’s one amazing double standard. The one thing Fallin got right yesterday is that something stinks at the Capitol.