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Remember the Names (part 2)

November 16, 2017 4 comments

One thing educators just love hearing is that our schools should be run more like businesses. It’s a great politician line: If schools were run more like businesses…
…we’d be able to pay all the teachers $100,000 a year. Of course, there’d only be about five teachers for every 500 students, but still…

I hate the mindset of treating either the students or the content we teach as a commodity. Our district finance offices should be run more like businesses. We have millions of dollars come in and go out every year – mostly into payroll. We want to save money and run as efficiently as possible, but not at the expense of educating children.

I do wonder, however, about one thing that would be different if we operated more like the business world. Maybe we’d be able to wine and dine our legislators and get our way. We’d be able to post record profits and still complain to lawmakers that they’re trying to bankrupt us. As it is, we can show up with a crowd of 25,000 people who support public education and have no impact.

Sky Shot

All together now!

Oil and Gas producers can show up with a few charter buses and campaign-quality signs and kill legislation. I definitely wish in that sense, that we were more like big business. Clout has its privileges.

On the other hand, nobody ever tells schools, you should operate more like the legislature. Imagine what that would look like.

I’m going to leave the Senate alone for now. They seem to be functioning on a higher level than the House during this quite Extraordinary Legislative Session.

But that House…bless them. Bless them all.

Each of the past two Wednesdays, the House has voted on a bill to finish the job of implementing a budget that should have been finalized in May. Last week, they killed HB 1054, which would have raised taxes on cigarettes, gasoline, watered-down beer, and gross production. It would have raised salaries for teachers and state employees. It had the 75% of votes needed in the Senate, but it died in the House by a vote of 71-27.

This week, however, the House approved a budget that uses some one-time money to limit cuts. This plan, HB 1019, passed with a vote of 65-25. Critical agencies will still face cuts. Higher education loses over $17 million. Health care loses $15 million, DHS $4 million, and Mental Health another $4 million.

Simply put, this budget will cost people more than their livelihoods. It will cost some their lives.

HB 1054 wasn’t perfect. It had elements that everybody found distasteful. It’s what was needed, though. Since we live in a state in which 65 passes but 71 fails, this is what we get.

If you want to read more about yesterday’s discussion in the House, check out Claudia Swisher’s blog. All I’m going to do is give you a list showing how House members voted on each bill (and a brief thought about each group). You can determine for yourself how to characterize these representatives.

You can call it a Special Session Scorecard, or maybe a twisted version of the Meyers-Briggs personality test. Perhaps it’s a Rorschach test for who funds the campaigns of each group.

Yes on both

Babinec, Baker, Caldwell, Casey, Cockroft, Echols, Fetgatter, Ford, Frix, Hall, Hilbert, Jordan, Kannady, Kerbs, Lawson, Lepak, Martinez, McCall, McDaniel, McDugle, McEntire, Montgomery, Mulready, Murdock, Newton, Ortega, Osborn, Osburn, Ownbey, Park, Pfeiffer, D. Roberts, Russ, Sanders, Sears, Taylor, Vaughan, Wallace, Watson, J. West, T. West, Wright

Total: 42 Republicans, 0 Democrats

To me, this group of people looked at HB 1054 as a massive compromise and the best we could do given the circumstances. This week, maybe they felt less hopeful and just had to vote for something to get finished. I would guess a lot of the names above have lost confidence in many of their colleagues.

No on both

Kouplen, Proctor, Stone, Williams, Murphey

Total: 1 Republican, 4 Democrats

If you’re neither looking for solutions nor draconian cuts,  I honestly don’t know how to read you.

Yes on 1054, no on 1019

F. Bennett, Blancett, Cannaday, Condit, Dollens, Dunnington, Fourkiller, Gaddis, Griffith, Hoskin, Loring, Meredith, Munson, Perryman, Renegar, Rosecrants, Tadlock, Virgin, Walke, Young, Humphrey, Thomsen

Total: 2 Republicans, 20 Democrats

Everybody who voted yes on HB 1054 sacrificed ideological purity to do so. This group didn’t feel like unclicking that button, I suppose.

No on 1054, yes on 1019

Calvey, Cleveland, Coody, Derby, Downing, Dunlap, Enns, Faught, Gann, Hardin, McBride, McEachin, Moore, O’Donnell, Ritze, S. Roberts, Strohm, Teague, K. West, R. West

Total: 20 Republicans, 0 Democrats

Well, people may die, but at least everybody’s third-quarter profits are safe.

Others

J. Bennett – missed vote on HB 1054, Yes on HB 1019
Inman, Rogers – No on HB 1054, missed vote on HB 1019
Goodwin, Lowe, Nichols, Bush, Henke, Nollan, Worthen – Yes on HB 1054, missed vote on HB 1019

***Important Note*** I’ve checked and double-checked these votes. If you find any inaccuracies, please let me know.
Vote on HB 1054
Vote on HB 1019

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Remember the Names

November 11, 2017 6 comments

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
-William Butler Yeats

This week while working, many Oklahomans found distraction watching a reckless, dangerous ordeal. It was a long and twisting journey, full of surprises. You could even call it the epitome of self-sabotage. Eventually, though it had a very predictable outcome: the Legislature once again failed to meet the needs of Oklahomans.

Oh, did you think I was talking about yesterday’s high speed chase in the OKC metro? I missed that. Too many meetings.

That was one guy making a series of bad decisions that ended with him being tazed and captured. Everyone watching knew that would happen. They just didn’t know what would happen first.

The story of this mess of a state started long ago. I could begin with 1992’s State Question 640, which severely limited the ability of the Legislature in a budget crisis such as this. Or maybe with Governor Fallin’s election in 2010. Or her re-election in 2014. For the sake of time, though, I’ll begin with the budget passed by the Legislature and approved in May.

A key piece of filling this year’s budget including passing a cigarette tax fee. Well, the Legislature called it a fee, but it was pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that it was a tax.

Predictably, on August 10th, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled as such. As the Oklahoman wrote at that time:

In an opinion that drew support from every justice, the court noted that the Legislature introduced four bills this year that would have created a similar cigarette “tax,” but the bills were abandoned because of little support. In the final week of session, lawmakers finally adopted the “smoking cessation fee.”

It was unanimous.

This created a huge budget hole and the need for a special session*. For weeks, we’ve seen half-measures and insults called compromises. Finally this week, the dam broke and something appeared to happen.

Senate Vote

The Senate voted on a bill – amended to include an increase to the Gross Production Tax – that had support of a majority of House members, just not the 75% required by the Oklahoma Constitution. It received support of all Democrats and all but five Republicans: Brecheen, Dahm, Daniels, Newberry, and Sikes. No surprises there. Any of those five making a conscious choice to help others would have been shocking.

Senate leader Mike Shultz said that this was a long-time coming.

This has been a source of frustration for years. On the other hand, Shultz favored every tax cut that has contributed to the recurring budget shortfalls that have led to our legislative leaders – metaphorically, of course – spinning their wheels in the middle of a field somewhere.

Since this technically wasn’t the bill the House sent to the Senate, it had to be renamed and sent to the House Budget Committee. There we saw a preview of what was coming Wednesday.

JCAB Vote

Now called HB 1054, the budget plan passed 19-6 out of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget Committee**. Calvey and Murphy voting no was as predictable as was the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeing through the tax/fee façade. Kouplen and Proctor, not as much.

Side note: Since the start of the extraordinary session, two legislators have announced they are leaving the House. Minority Leader Scott Inman is one. Apparently, Steve Kouplen is the new pick to lead the Democrats. Based on this week, maybe they should open the process and choose someone new.

This led to Wednesday, when the House spent two hours taking questions and another hour debating HB 1054.

I tried watching the live stream, when I could. I debated with other superintendents what the final vote would be. Few of us expected it to pass. In fact, most of us thought the final number of yes votes would be even lower than 71.

House vote

I follow several journalists during the high holy extraordinary sessions. Catherine Sweeney, Dale Denwalt, and Tres Savage are some of the best. I went through their Twitter feeds today to try to recapture what happened Wednesday. Here are some examples of their work:

Ok, aside from Calvey’s dizzying logic, he makes the point that we should audit everything and find waste, fraud, and abuse. On the other hand, this is Calvey’s sixth term in the Legislature. Before he represented Deer Creek, he represented Del City. He’s one of the state’s longest-tenured lawmakers. Why hasn’t he called for these audits before? Other than casting aspersions on public employees, what has he done?

These make me sad. I don’t understand people who say they support teachers and raises for teachers and then vote no when they have a chance to do something.

Let’s face facts: the 2017 legislative session is now six months into overtime. There has been no leadership and nothing resembling a plan. It shows. Holding the vote open for another hour trying to find more votes didn’t help either.

Honestly, listening to Perryman discuss the budget bill, I thought he’d vote against it. I’ve admired him for years. He’s a true populist and a great public servant. I was having a hard time reconciling all of that.

He voted yes.

This was also a clear breaking point for some. They’d raise taxes on consumers, but not producers. It was the hardest thing for me to swallow.

If you look at the names on those vote boards – the greens in particular – you see a lot of people who expended political capital by voting yes. They are Republicans who voted for tax increases on oil and gas companies. They are Democrats who voted for regressive taxes that disproportionately impact the poor. They are people who realized that ideological purity is no substitute for leadership. You can’t govern if you expect to get your way all the time.

Speaking of Roger Ford (R – Midwest City), he’s been blowing up the Facebook world lately. He’s called out House leadership and been more or less live journaling his frustration. Here’s a sample:

To all the people saying don’t give another dime to our agencies, until after they get audited. Well bless your heart! Audits don’t happen overnight. So I guess we shut Oklahoma down for a couple years while we wait. Audits are not in the scope of this special session, so once again it’s not happening! Why can people not get that? What is so hard to understand about that?

I watched a couple no vote legislators smiling and laughing as they exited, walking right past the disabled adults in the rotunda. Never stopping to see their faces. Your life goes on, but what about them?! You changed their world and don’t give a damn.

But in fairness at least they had the decency to walk past them after they voted no. Unlike the coward that snuck in the back door, gave another representative a thumbs down motion to vote for him and immediately walked out the back door. To that young man, everything I learned about you this past year has turned out to be true. You took great joy at throwing stones at others, while you yourself was living in a glass house. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.

To the ones that held out for a higher GPT, good luck! Any GPT increase drove off with the chartered buses that were parked in front of the Capitol all day. You get 2%, you get 2% and you get 2%. Yay everyone gets 2%! If we can’t get 7, let’s take home nothing! Brilliant idea!!!

Oh yeah, that’s right. There were charter buses there. Here’s a pic.

Oil and Gas Charter Buses

Enough people – in both parties – held to their principles. As a result, people will suffer.

It’s worth noting that this vote came exactly a year after the vote on State Question 779, which would have given teachers a $5,000 raise. This teacher raise would have been just $3,000, but still, teachers had hope.

hope red

With all due respect to the Shawshank Redemption, hope is painful. Hope is thinking that when the stolen truck you’re driving breaks free from the trailer behind you that you’ll be able to elude the police cars and helicopters that surround you. I woke up believing that it might pass. After all, it passed the Senate handily. We all want the same things, right?

Unfortunately, with all the posturing, grandstanding, guest appearances, and unmoored contempt in the House, again, we watched as nothing happened.

I can’t explain the people who sided with Cleveland and Calvey. One walked around the Capitol with a fart machine. The other once threatened self-immolation. I’ll let you google which is which.

I can explain what happens now.

See what you’ve done? I agree with the governor.

You can read the impact of our state’s legislative impotence from an adoptive parent:

Nine years ago, I stepped up and took a large financial burden off the state by adopting three older, traumatized children. In turn, the State agreed to provide certain resources that were minimal to begin with and have eroded over time. More cuts will come down the road if we don’t fix our systemic budget issues very soon. It looks as though lawmakers will probably be able to stave off cataclysmic cuts for now. But short-term measures like raiding the Rainy Day fund instead of making courageous decisions are what got us into this situation in the first place. Unless lawmakers sustainably raise revenues – as voters overwhelmingly want – these near-calamities will continue, and families like mine will bear the cost.

A mother of a disabled teen tried to get answers from legislators:

“We’re concerned, we’re worried,” Jones said as she met with Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City. “My son is the client of the Goodwill adult day center in Chickasha, and our understanding is that without a fix on this current budget crisis is that it will close. They will not be able to keep their doors open and there’s nothing else for my kiddo.”As she walked the hallways late Thursday afternoon, she hoped the legislators she talked with would understand and maybe change their “no” to a “yes.”

I have to say that one representative in particular caught my attention for her remarks on Wednesday.

It’s important to remember that over the summer, House Speaker Charles McCall stripped Leslie Osborn of her JCAB chairmanship because she spoke her mind:

Osborn’s removal comes one day after she and two other Republican state representatives criticized house leadership for comments made after the Oklahoma Department of Human services announced last week it was cutting $30 million in services because of a lack of funding from the state.

The men who opposed McCall, by the way, were stripped of nothing.

This all makes me wonder why the Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature don’t change leadership and find someone committed to helping the state. Nobody is entitled to those positions for the duration of their legislative service.

Osburn is right about one thing in particular. We really must remember who voted yes and who voted no on this. I’ve seen written explanations from members of both parties. I accept none of them.

Our system of government requires serious people who know what it means to lead. It requires voters who hold them accountable.


*Technically, it’s called an Extraordinary Session. Indeed it is that.
**Speaking of government inefficiency, I love this committee name.

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