On Coyotes and Road Runners
Pardon me for reminiscing, but when I was young, Saturday mornings were full of cartoons to warp my mind and curve my spine. I couldn’t get enough of Scooby Doo or the Superfriends.
I watched hours of the Jetsons and the Pink Panther. Hong Kong Phooey was another favorite of mine, especially after I was older and realized that his character was voiced by Scatman Crothers, the caretaker from The Shining.
My favorite part of Saturday mornings, however, was the hour of Looney Tunes reruns. Schedules changed from year to year. I seem to remember at one point, it was even a 90 minute block. Talk about feeding my indolence and pursuing it passively!
I even loved the opening. It was a catchy song – maybe my first experience with an earworm.
Overture, curtain lights
This is it, the night of nights
No more rehearsing and nursing a part
We know every part by heart…
Later, when I was in my 20s, I learned that Jerry Seinfeld would launch into the opening theme song at the mere mention of the word Overture.
As with Seinfeld, all my knowledge of high culture comes from Bugs Bunny cartoons.
A great cartoon is one that entertains children and has humor that adults are more likely to appreciate. It’s good clean fun, until somebody gets hurt.
That brings me to the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Apparently, animation director Chuck Jones had nine written rules for their episodes.
After seeing these circulate on Facebook last night, I saw something familiar. Is this a metaphor for the state budgeting process? If so, who is the Road Runner, and who is the Coyote? Let’s look at the rules and decide.
Rule 1: The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going, “beep-beep!”
Not that #oklaed is the only stakeholder impacted by those who develop the budget, but let’s just say in the last few years, we’ve been saying a lot of “beep-beep!” Occasionally, it even progresses to “bleep-bleep!” If we accept that the Coyote represents certain legislators (and perhaps a former state superintendent), I guess we’ve actually done some harm.
Rule 2: No outside force can harm the Coyote – only his own ineptitude or the failure of the ACME products.
If we accept the metaphor, and we accept that the Coyote is inept, what we’re saying is that those who’ve made our budget were perhaps certain their plans would work. They believed that if they cut taxes enough, state revenue would continue increasing.
By the way, income tax cuts seem to be about as effective as a slew of ACME products.
As the Oklahoma Policy Institute shows, our leaders have meticulously cut state revenue to this point. While the price of a barrel of oil is less than half what we would consider healthy for our state’s economy, that is not the only reason we have a massive budget hole to fill.
Beginning with the Great Recession that reached Oklahoma in 2009, the state has experienced a continuing budget crisis. Even after the economy recovered from a severe national recession, Oklahoma’s funding for core services remains well below pre-recession levels. Many state agencies still operate with one-quarter to one-third less state support compared to fiscal year 2009. Overall, this year’s state appropriated budget is $896 million, or 11.4 percent, below that of 2009 once adjusted for inflation.
This is why we keep saying that the budget hole was both predictable and preventable.
Rule 3: The Coyote could stop anytime – if he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.” – George Santayana)
Who knew that the foundation of the conflict between these two was rooted so deeply in early 20th century philosophy?! Sadly, those of us who have been paying attention for years know this all too well. Follow me here for a minute and rest assured, you won’t be tested over dates.
- 1990 – The Oklahoma Legislature, spearheaded by Republican Governor Henry Bellmon, enacts House Bill 1017, a landmark education reform measure that increases and protects funding for public education.
- 1991 – Oklahoma voters defeated State Question 639 which would have repealed HB 1017.
- 1992 – Oklahoma voters passed State Question 640, which established limits for how tax increases could be enacted.
Under SQ 640, a revenue bill can only become law if: (1) it is approved by a 3/4th vote of both legislative chambers and is signed by the Governor; or (2) it is referred by the legislature to a vote of the people at the next general election and receives majority approval.
Since passage of SQ 640 in 1992, Oklahoma voters have approved only one state question to raise taxes: SQ 713, which increased the tobacco tax in 2004. SQ 723, which would have increased motor vehicle fuel taxes, was defeated in 2005.
This is truly the era of origin for the problem at hand now. Properly funding public education and other basic functions of government is expensive. When education supporters get loud and have an impact, forces that oppose us rise up and convince voters that all tax cuts are a good thing.
Because of SQ 640, the Oklahoma Legislature couldn’t raise taxes if they wanted to. They wouldn’t get 75% support in both houses. They wouldn’t get a signature from the governor. Just this week, we’ve heard the governor and her staff double down on the idea that the most recent tax cuts are a good thing – in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
Rule 4: No dialogue ever, except “beep-beep!”
They say nothing of consequence. In response, #oklaed and other people who use facts respond in the only way we know how. It’s not exactly dialogue.
Rule 5: The Road Runner must stay on the road – otherwise, logically, he would not be called Road Runner.
For all the crippling cuts and horrible policy decisions that have impacted public schools in recent years, we’ve done our jobs. We’ve stayed on the road. Occasionally, we stop and let out a “beep-beep!” but we are busy doing what we need to do for our students. Drop an anvil, and we’ll keep moving. Paint a picture of a road on the side of a desert rock, and we’ll turn it into a freaking road.
And then the Coyote will crash into it. It’s what Coyotes do.
Rule 6: All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters – the Southwest American desert.
For our purposes, the natural environment of the Coyote is closed-door boardrooms with billionaires. For the Road Runner, it’s thrift sales and fundraisers.
Rule 7: All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the ACME Corporation.
Our state’s budget is definitely driven by corporations. That’s how SQ 766 passed, costing communities millions that would have stood to benefit schools and municipal services.
Another interpretation of the metaphor here is that the ACME Corporation stands for the state purchasing contract. That also explains why our computers don’t always work as they should.
Rule 8: Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote’s greatest enemy.
This explains adherents to trickle-down economics.
They like to pretend it’s helping, but in the end, they just look foolish.
Wait, that’s from a different list.
Rule 9: The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
Oh, how I wish this part were true. I don’t know that our leaders who make the budget are harmed by their failures. Instead, they’re defensive. Some legislators are even sending constituents surveys such as this one from House District 53.
I don’t believe the representative here wants true input. For the first question, there’s a third choice: stop cutting taxes when we already have a revenue failure. Question seven creates a great straw man. However, I would expect someone as seasoned as Rep. McBride to know that the law already places limits on administrative expenditures. Question eight is a voucher question. Question ten is another false choice.
When you receive something like this, keep in mind your opinion doesn’t matter. The Coyote already has his mind made up. He’s going to do whatever the ACME Corporation tells him to do.
At this point, unfortunately, we know every part by heart.