BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Between 1914 and 2012, more than 90% of Oklahoma’s school districts were closed through consolidation. As unused school buildings were salvaged and torn down, many contained old desks, memorabilia and other relics that became collectors’ items. Antique school bells were a prime example.
For decades the sale bills of a legendary rural Oklahoma auctioneer advertised that he would be auctioning an antique school bell. His auctions would draw hundreds and sometimes thousands of bidders, but the bell was never gaveled as “sold.”
The renowned Oklahoma auctioneer was Col. F.E. “Red” Springer, who was so famous that he was the inaugural member of the Arkansas Auctioneer Hall of Fame. No one knows how many people were prompted to attend one of Col. Springer’s auctions because of that bell.
Bait-and-switch advertising is defined as advertising goods with the intent of not selling them. Col. Springer was a shrewd businessman, but he was not a fraud. The legitimate advertising value of that bell far exceeded any bid that the colonel had ever entertained, but no one doubted for a moment that if an acceptable bid had ever been offered, the bell would have had a new home.
Today, bait-and-switch is alive and well in Oklahoma politics. Politicians who promise voters that they can cut taxes and still provide Oklahomans with quality schools and improved roads either have a plan to capture the voters’ money some other way or they are not being truthful.
Often bait-and-switch politicians cause increases in other types of taxes to replace the lost revenue. For instance, when the state Legislature cuts income taxes, necessary road repairs or school expenses require counties and school districts to increase property taxes.
When the state general fund decreases, cities are forced to fund streets, sidewalks and other municipal services through increased sales taxes.
Some politicians sign pledges or promise tax cuts without knowing whether we have enough highway patrolmen or prison guards or how little the state pays its teachers.
As a result, the budgets of state agencies like the Department of Public Safety, Tourism and Agriculture are financed with increases in the cost of licenses, fees, permits and fines. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality imposes record-breaking fines on cities, towns and private industry to offset massive and sometimes vindictive budget cuts.
District attorneys and law enforcement attempt to balance their budgets using probation supervision fees and civil asset forfeiture. Nonetheles, pay in these underfunded agencies remains low, causing trained and experienced employees to seek other jobs in the same way that underpaid teachers are leaving that profession.
In many communities municipal court fines are used to replace aging water and sewer lines, and residents and businesses where the state can no longer help with fire protection pay higher insurance premiums.
Draconian tax cuts have left our state without sufficient revenue to function. That is like finally buying Col. Springer’s bell, but finding out that we don’t have enough money for the clapper.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, serves District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives