BY DAVID PERRYMAN
In 1977, Broadway gave us the musical Annie based on Harold Gray’s iconic American comic strip Little Orphan Annie. Several songs from the Broadway adaption contain strong messages. Among them are, “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover,” sung tongue in cheek by homeless shanty dwellers beneath a bridge.
Other lyrics from the play are readily recognizable. “It’s a Hard-Knocks Life” sung by the girls who lived with Annie at the orphanage. Perhaps most indelible in our memory is Annie’s version of “Tomorrow,” which captures Annie’s optimism in her constant quest to be reunited with her parents.
The drab underside of Annie’s optimism is her lyrical recognition that tomorrow is “always a day away.”
While Annie’s perpetual dream of what tomorrow would bring did not involve material possessions, catastrophic decisions and bad fiscal policy have Oklahoma politicians yearning that their tomorrow will yield cold hard cash and lots of it.
Monday 10 marked the beginning of the 10th week of Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session. The Oklahoma Constitution requires that a balanced budget be adopted this year no later than 5 p.m., Friday, May 26. That means that counting this one, there are only seven weeks remaining to address perhaps the bleakest financial outlook that this state has faced since the Great Depression in the aftermath of the Republican Congress and Hoover presidency of the 1920s.
Agency heads who have seen previous budgets shrink by up to 40% or more have now been asked to illustrate a scenario in which an additional 14% would be cut. An example of the impact is state park closures, closures of all but 12 driver license examination offices to serve the entire state, and furloughs of highway patrolmen who are already limited to the number of daily miles that they are permitted to drive. Budget-makers have conducted hearings that are reminiscent of “scared-straight” sessions to convince stubborn legislators that there really is a revenue crisis.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that roads and bridges are crumbling and there is no money to fund pay increases for Oklahoma teachers or to increase salaries of other state employees, many of whom currently qualify for food stamps, many legislators demand additional cuts instead of seeking recurring revenue to address this annual budgetary free-fall.
Oklahoma “officially” has a budget hole of more than $878 million, but that doesn’t include the $10 million that must be paid back to the lottery commission after it was “used” to cover some of the state’s expenses and doesn’t include the $242.9 million that was surreptitiously “removed” from the Rainy Day Fund and must be paid back or the $53 million that is necessary to fund a $1,000 teacher pay increase. Therefore, the actual budget hole is around $1.1 billion.
That $1.1 billion budget hole underscores the relevancy of this factoid: Oklahoma income tax cuts over the past decade cost the state $1.022 billion every year, primarily because the wages of Sonic car hops and other low wage earners are taxed at the exact same rate as the CEO’s of Oklahoma’s largest corporations and other wealthy Oklahomans. That’s right – Oklahoma’s top income tax rate applies to anyone earning taxable wages of just $7,200 per year.
Remember, when Annie sang “You can bet your bottom dollar that the sun’ll come out tomorrow”? As an orphan, she had no options except to “hang on ‘til tomorrow” and even then, she was mature enough to know that “tomorrow is always a day away.”
Oklahoma has options. We aren’t in this budgetary crisis because oil and gas prices are low. Our situation is catastrophic because of an irresponsible tax policy promoted by dogmatic ideologues relentlessly clinging to 1920s trickle-down economics while Oklahomans suffer the consequences and our state’s future is decimated.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House