It’s outrageous to advance the argument that it’s “fair” for Chesapeake Oil to wind up with a negative tax bill – lower than the average Oklahoman paid last year. Yet that’s precisely the message some of that company’s protectors in the state Legislature are trying to convey.
This largely irresponsible body also passed a tax cut, set to take effect in 2015. The cut won’t help the average middle-class Okie, who will see only a piddling few bucks added to his bottom line. But the damage the cumulative removal of these precious dollars from the state coffers will inflict upon public education and other cherished programs is almost incalculable.
Three legislators who represent segments of the Cherokee County population – Sen. Earl Garrison, D-Muskogee; Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah; and Rep. Will Fourkiller, D-Stilwell – were on hand at Friday’s Legislative Focus to deliver the troubling news about the behavior of their compatriots at the statehouse. As usual, the area’s other two elected officials – Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove, and Rep. Kim David, R-Wagoner – didn’t bother to show up. A few local Republicans made note of that, and expressed their frustration.
We continue to marvel at the stalwart nature of Brown, Garrison and Fourkiller, who for all intents and purposes are tilting at windmills in Oklahoma City. They know what’s happening is wrong, but they’re outnumbered by lawmakers who only serve the interests of a tiny snippet of the population. And folks, we’re not in that club.
Brown said while he has nothing against tax cuts, no one knows how the state plans to pay for them. Whoever’s in office in 2016 will inherit the dilemma, much like Barack Obama inherited a couple of wars from George Bush. And just like Obama hasn’t done a spectacular job extricating the U.S. from those quagmires, Oklahoma’s next leaders may not have much luck funding the tax cuts without severely damaging programs the state’s residents depend on.
Both Brown and Garrison found fault with a hair-brained scheme to combine all public service pension plans into one pool, with a single person overseeing the $20 billion in funds – a person appointed by the governor. Anyone who has been keeping up with financial news over the past two decades, and who has seen how placing all your eggs into one basket can lead to fiscal disaster, should be sounding alarm bells. Though it got a pass for this legislative session, the plan will be back in the loop next year – and given its particulars, one must be forgiven for suspecting a handful of powerful people have set up a system to enrich themselves on the backs of hard-working Oklahomans.
Another problem generated by this Legislature is the so-called workers’ compensation reform, which according to Garrison includes at least 30 portions that are likely unconstitutional. But practices that strain the bounds of legality scarcely raise an eyebrow among the current capitol crop, who are all too willing to pass state laws that countermand federal ones – something any schoolchild in a civics class knows to be untenable.
And finally, once again, legislators demonstrated their contempt for public education. Though they allocated $75 million in new funding, a bill passed last fall will cost the schools $66 million. As Garrison put it, “We’re slipping backward each year.”
Brown and Fourkiller offered similar pithy, if disturbing, comments. The tax cut, Brown said, was merely “kicking the can down the road,” and added, “It’s totally responsible.” But most telling may have Fourkiller’s observation, in reporting that the session may end two weeks early: “That’s two weeks less damage we can do.”
Voters need to remember that statement, as well as the explanations our delegation has given us about what’s transpiring in our name, and with our tax dollars. Cherokee County, for years, has done a good job of choosing our legislators, until recent gerrymandering took away part of the privilege. But if the rest of the state doesn’t improve its track record at the polls, we’re in for a long and difficult ride.