BY DAVID PERRYMAN
One of the three or four best known Christmas movies is the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street wherein nursing home resident Kris Kringle’s status as Santa Claus is challenged and is subjected to a competency hearing. Kris is placed at risk of being committed to a mental hospital instead of securing his rightful recognition as the one and only Santa Claus.
In the end, there are a number of “miracles,” not the least of which is the fact that when the United States Post Office delivers to Kris 21 mail bags stuffed with letters to Santa Claus, the judge confirms the postal service’s recognition of Kris and dismisses the competency hearing.
With Christmas approaching, the Oklahoma Legislature is in dire need of a “Miracle on 23rd Street.” Twenty-third and Lincoln at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, that is.
A second special session is underway to address funding for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and to avoid Medicaid provider cuts. There has been speculation that the governor may broaden the purpose statement for this second special session to adjust funding for Oklahoma’s Advantage Waiver program and for Department of Mental Health funding.
Piecemealing a budget is no way to provide services for our citizens who are elderly, mentally ill, substance abusers and developmentally disabled. Nursing homes and other health care providers that try to predict the needs of Oklahoma residents are left with ambiguity and a lack of direction.
Non-profit entities that are tasked with providing counseling, guidance and medical care to the 22.4% of Oklahomans who suffer from some degree of mental illness and the 11.9% of Oklahomans who have substance abuse disorders are unable to ramp up and ramp down services when the state Legislature allows funding levels to swing wildly out of control. That translates to between 700,000 and 950,000 Oklahomans whose treatment is often rendered ineffective because of intermittent funding.
The budgetary gaps in the Health Care Authority, the Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse are simply symptomatic of a funding crisis that affects virtually every state agency. The list goes on. Common education, higher education, Department of Corrections, Department of Transportation, and county government are all asked to provide essential services with fewer appropriated dollars.
Ultimately, when agency cuts render it ineffective, the agency itself becomes the target of legislators who have themselves dropped the ball on their duty to responsibly govern.
Miracle on 34th Street is a great movie. It received Oscars in 1947 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Actor in a Supporting Role [Edmund Gwenn], Best Writing, Original Story [Valentine Davies] and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture that year, losing to another iconic movie, Gentleman’s Agreement.
Perhaps the greatest miracle that could occur this Christmas would be if the governor, the Senate and the House of Representatives could come together in a bipartisan manner in the best interest of the state of Oklahoma and reach just that … a “Gentleman’s Agreement” to honestly and faithfully resolve Oklahoma’s perennial budget problem, once and for all.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House