BY DAVID PERRYMAN
A scene from the 2013 movie Anchorman 2 places “legendary” newsman Ron Burgundy and his “has-been” news staff in an RV traveling cross country in search of themselves. Will Ferrell, who plays Burgundy, sets the RV in “cruise control” and joins his friends in the back of the vehicle to reminisce about better times.
After seemingly miles of straight roadway, one of Burgundy’s buddies has a flash of lucidity and inquires as to the identity of the driver. When told that the cruise control was on, the buddy responds that “cruise controls just regulate speed, they don’t steer.” Unfortunately, the instant the group realizes the danger of abdicating the steering wheel, the drifting RV leaves the roadway, rolls several times and ends up destroyed and laying on its side.
The magic of cinema enabled the passengers to emerge with only minor scrapes and bruises. However, because of Oklahoma’s version of an unattended cruise control, the “passengers” living and working in this great state are not faring as well.
Oklahoma’s “automatic” income tax cut that is triggered by “estimates” and not actual receipts does not take into consideration existing expenses, future expenses, unbridled tax credit liabilities or any one of a score of other factors that could plunge Oklahoma’s budget deeply in the red. That is but one example of setting the cruise control and then going to the back of the bus.
Likewise, “off the top” earmarks bind the budget and leave the legislature with no ability to have a voice in deciding how to spend 60 cents of each dollar of state revenue.
Add to that the fact that of the $17.19 billion budget in FY 2013, $6.647 billion or 39% was federal funding with strings attached for specific purposes.
For FY 2014, collections by the Oklahoma Tax Commission totaled $8.45 billion and of that only 63.3% went into the general fund. That is a drop from the FY 1995 percentage of 78% of Oklahoma Tax Commission receipts. In other words, having succumbed to lobbyists’ demands, legislators are spending about 20% more time in the back of the bus rather than wrestling with hard budget issues.
Earmarking funds as “off the top” and dealing with federal funds as well as appropriated funds allow persons with an agenda to twist the numbers anyway they want. For instance, who do you believe about whether education is over-funded or underfunded or making it just fine?
Here are two facts: No. 1, the largest share of state spending from all sources goes to health and social services [37%] and education [24%]. And No. 2, just over half of the $6.7 billion appropriated by the Legislature in FY 2011 [less than half the state’s total spending] went to education and about one-fourth funded health and social services.
The bottom line is that Oklahoma’s teachers and state employees are underpaid, with many below or near the federal poverty level.
Tough decisions must be made with regard to revenue and expenditures. Cruise control is not the answer and, according to comedian Ron White, auto-pilot will not do much more than get us to the scene of the crash about 30 minutes before the ambulances arrive.
Unless we step up soon, we probably won’t need the paramedics.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives