BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Formally called an “Extraordinary Session” and commonly referred to as a “Special Session,” seven weeks of unrehearsed antics at the state Capitol made it apparent that the resulting pandemonium was neither special nor extraordinary.
If the fact that underpaid teachers are leaving the state and exiting the education field after a decade of economic abuse does not jolt legislators into political reality, neither will the tragic fact that developmentally disabled citizens who apply for services are placed on a list that exceeds 7,500 individuals and is 11 years long.
If the fact that hospitals and ambulance services are closing across the state at an alarming rate does not cause concern or inquiry from the majority of Oklahoma’s legislators or the governor, neither will the closure of nursing homes or the loss of home health care for citizens who will have no place to go when in-home care through the Advantage Waiver program is eliminated.
Teachers rally at the Capitol and are rebuffed. Developmentally disabled rally at the Capitol and are disregarded. County Commissioners come to the Capitol to explain the statewide harm resulting from state budget cuts and they get more of the same.
The only time that visiting the Capitol appears to be effective is when chartered tour buses show up at the south doors loaded with white-collar employees of the oil and gas industry who have been whisked down the elevators of downtown Oklahoma City office towers and shuttled to remind legislators that a No Vote is important … to the profit and loss statement of shareholders.
On those days, legislative galleries are filled to the brim with men and women intended to frighten back into compliance “wayward” legislators whose constituents may have influenced them of the need for an increase in the gross production tax.
The tactic was once again successful as all attempts to provide the state of Oklahoma with a stream of recurring revenue by reversing the gross production tax cuts and the high earner income tax cuts that have been enacted over the past five years failed.
Instead, those legislative leaders who had orchestrated a vote designed to “appear” sympathetic to Oklahoma’s plight, but in reality pushed members to no option except a bill to use “cuts and cash.” That protected the oil and gas industry and high income campaign contributors but also kicked the can down the proverbial road in a manner that would not only negate the possibility of raises for teachers or state employees but also ensure that next year’s state budget hole would approach $750 million.
The bill that was passed in the House of Representatives on Wednesday of Week Eight could have been passed in Week One, but that would not have been good theatre. The House adjourned on Friday morning before the Senate could adopt a better option had they wanted to and consequently when the Senate followed suit Friday afternoon, the governor had two choices.
For the first time in a long time, the governor chose the path of strong leadership and vetoed those portions of the bill that guaranteed future budget shortfalls and fiscal woes for the state.
Thankfully, Gov. Fallin’s action left in place temporary funding for programs like Advantage Waiver and the developmentally disabled and allowed those who are least able to care for themselves to have at least a few weeks of respite from anguish and despair.
However, Gov. Fallin’s veto was based on her refusal to accept draconian cuts in other programs and consequently increased the likelihood of another special session in late November or early December to address the unaddressed scope of her original call for action.
Let’s hope that it is truly extraordinary.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House