They came, they saw, they puked
In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock, Oklahoma has faced budget shortfalls each of the last three years, and they just keep getting bigger. This has created tension at our Capitol – you know the one getting the $245 million in repairs.
That’s not what this post is about. I’m glad the Capitol is being restored. Here’s what Governor Fallin said in her state of the state address back in 2014:
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The electrical system is dangerously outdated.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.
Based on a Fox 25 story from last week, some of those same terms could be appropriate in describing the state’s budget negotiations process. As Phil Cross explains:
Documents obtained by FOX 25 shed new light on the difficulties of filling the $1.3 billion hole in the state’s budget. They reveal the governor’s office began talking about the budget long before the session kicked off. Doerflinger said while formal negotiations did not start until 2016, the talks started shortly after the 2015 legislative session closed.
Emails from the governor’s staff showed the session began with optimism. Even when House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) told the Tulsa World there was no chance for a teacher pay raise during the session, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Denise Northrup wrote “challenge accepted…gov remember this for the meeting with Inman soon.”
Ultimately though, no teacher pay raise happened in the session. By May, a staff member for the governor’s office wrote, “Not very grateful,” in an email to Northrup containing the statement of Oklahoma State School Board Association on the end of the session saying schools would continue to struggle under the budget agreement. Northrup replied, “jerks.”
I don’t find much of this surprising. The governor’s staff didn’t like the push back they received to their budget ideas. And maybe they were upset that Inman didn’t think their ideas would produce a teacher raise, but show me where he was wrong.
Remember, the Republican party can pass any piece of legislation they wanted to without a single Democrat voting for it. If the governor vetoed it, they could override her, again, without a single Democrat supporting them. That’s called a supermajority. Governor Fallin has had that luxury for the six years she’s held the office. It’s a luxury Fallin expects to retain for her last two years as governor as well.
“In this budget, there are things that you don’t like,” Doerflinger said, “and in this case that was one that made my stomach church but at the end of the day the governor has to make a decision as to whether all the other things that were accomplished in this budget.”
The stomach churning was not confined to Doerflinger’s office. Upstairs, in the governor’s office Northrup looked at the final agreement which included an addition that was never part of any negotiation. She simply wrote, “puke.”
I love this kind of insight. Knowing that there would be no budget deal otherwise, the governor’s office accepted something they didn’t want. It made them want to puke.
Yet when the OSSBA feels the same way, they’re jerks, right? Right.
During the last six years, I can’t even count the number of financial decisions our state has made that have made me feel that way. Just for fun, though, here are a few:
In 2012, Oklahoma voters approved SQ 766, which now costs the state tens of millions of dollars annually in property tax collections. This impacts our cities and our schools, and it deepens the budget deficits we face in this state. It benefits large corporations, most notably AT&T. The measure passed 65% to 35%, because all we heard was “tax cut.” Never mind that it doesn’t help most of us.
In 2014, the Legislature passed an income tax cut that continued to cut into state revenue. It is likely that the legislation responsible for dropping the tax rate in Oklahoma to 5 percent this year will cause it to fall even further in 2018.
In 2015, the Legislature passed HB 2244, which threw motor vehicle tax collections into a spin that created huge imbalances in state aid to school districts. On top of that, the Oklahoma Tax Commission misinterpreted the Legislature’s intent for how those collections should be distributed. A judge’s decision against the OTC now means that some corrective action will be taken, which will impact districts’ budget planning.
In 2016, school districts throughout the state faced cut after cut after cut, but only once half the year had already passed. Then during the summer, the same people who wanted to puke because of all the jerks announced that they had accidentally cut $141 million too much from state agencies. They even tried re-branding it a surplus and attempted to talk legislators into having a special session (like the one they worked to avoid in May by holding their nose and accepting an imperfect product).
Meanwhile, the governor’s biggest cheerleaders (besides Oklahoma’s energy industry) – the editorialists at the Oklahoman and the think tank double-speakers at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – spent the year alternating between trying to convince teachers that they were actually making good money and contriving strategies to use one-time funds (such as the surplus that wasn’t) to fund raises that wouldn’t be sustainable. One of the OCPA guys even suggested that we should illegally spend bond money to pay salaries. If he thinks that idea will float, then he’s probably going to buy OU’s Tuscan monastery.
Making the burn of bad decisions worse, North Dakota has managed the spoils of their energy industry and created a real budget surplus. That could have been Oklahoma.
Yeah, I still want to puke.
We vote in nine days. Maybe you’re still on the fence about SQ 779 – the penny sales tax that would generate raises of at least $5,000 for teachers. Or maybe you’ve been reading propaganda that says more than half the money will go to higher education. That’s a lie. No matter how many times you read it on the Internet, it’s still a lie. If you want to read the legal language and get back to me, feel free.
If the people who are running things at the Capitol make you want to puke, you still have a chance to support pro-education candidates. A few changes here and there, and our collective stomachs might rest a little better.
That’s about it for things that make me want to puke – well, as long as I don’t get started on the Halloween overtime that is our presidential election.