Editor, The Transcript:
As the date for the proposed teacher and state employee walkout approaches, I am concerned about the results of such actions. As a veteran observer of politics in the Sooner state, I predict disaster.
Education is a tough sell in Oklahoma. Too many people believe schools should be operated as cheaply as possible, and as long as children have a place to go during the day and come home at night having absorbed at least some knowledge during their time away from home, that’s enough.
I’ve lived through multiple efforts to fund education without actually having to pay for it. My wife (a former teacher) and I circulated petitions to get horseracing on the ballot. We voted for liquor by the drink partly because we believed in legalizing the common practice of “liquor by the wink”, but also because the new revenue would help fund education. We supported HB 1017 and lobbied our legislators in favor of its passage. When the lottery appeared on the ballot we voted for it. All of these measures contributed to funding education in Oklahoma; none of them were sufficient.
It’s time Oklahomans establish a long-term plan for funding education. Granted, it’s the biggest piece of the state budget pie already, but that doesn’t mean schools are adequately funded. Oklahoma jumped on the tax cutting bandwagon a decade ago predicting prosperity would rain down on Oklahomans after we cut taxes. Clearly, legislators and others who promoted this idea didn’t get a good mathematics education. Economic growth in anything other than a highly unhealthy inflationary economy is never going to replace a billion dollars in lost revenue. We have to stop looking for a magic bullet to fund education and other state services and make the hard choices.
When revenue proposals made it to the floor of either the House of Senate, Democrats were able to scuttle them because of the stupid rule state voters approved back in 1992 that requires a 75% vote in both houses of the legislature for approval of revenue measures. You couldn’t get three-fourths of the legislature to agree that the sun comes up in the east, let alone approve a tax increase!
We have reached a critical juncture, a fork in the road. One road requires bold choices to raise taxes and fund education and other state services not just adequately, but generously. Plan for growth. The other road is the one we are on now, but although we are in a deep hole, I don’t think the legislature has the sense to stop digging. What do I think will happen? I think teachers and state employees are going to walk out, but our state legislature has already proven itself incapable of acting. The school year will end for many districts April 2. Some teachers will get fired. The legislature will patch together another inadequate budget in the waning hours of the legislative session, and go home promising to do better next year.
Please, Oklahomans. Let us pick the high road.