BY DAVID PERRYMAN
In a long list of childhood tales, like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Snow White, and hundreds more, the endings are always “happily ever after” predictable. Those stories, affectionately known as Fairy Tales, brighten the lives of children and often serve as a springboard for a lifetime of appreciation of a broad spectrum of the literary arts.
Of course, fairy tales are seldom, if ever, based in reality. The Oklahoma Legislature promotes as its mantra its own version of fables that are likewise not based in reality. For today’s purposes, I call them Prairie Tales.
Unfortunately, Prairie Tales are destructive to Oklahoma and the institutions that provide services to Oklahomans. One of the most insidious Prairie Tales is that slashing Gross Production Taxes from 7% to 2% is beneficial to the state. Another is that cutting income taxes on high income earners from 7% to 5% generates jobs and increases revenues for Oklahoma.
The truth of the matter is that those tax cuts have cost the atate in excess of $1.5 billion per year and have been the primary cause of Oklahoma’s annual budget holes that have resulted in draconian cuts to education and other services.
Those “trickle-down” Prairie Tales have landed Oklahoma last in teacher pay and our state has cut K-12 and higher education funding deeper than any other state in the country.
In addition to draconian education cuts, Oklahoma has neglected the health and health outcomes of Oklahoma’s citizens and at every turn the governor and the Oklahoma Legislature have resisted policies that would increase the number of insured Oklahomans and undermined Medicaid and access to private insurance for working Oklahomans whose employers do not provide health coverage.
Consequently, rural ambulance services, rural hospitals, rural pharmacies and hundreds of medical-related businesses have closed or been rendered unable to provide quality health care coverage, from one corner of the state to the other.
Those same decisions have devastated Oklahoma’s network of mental health and substance abuse clinics, counselors and providers. Not only does that underfunding destroy lives, it, when coupled with a lack of funding for education and training, has the direct effect of filling prisons to its current 109% capacity status.
The snowball effect of a decade of these destructive policy decisions has put Oklahoma in a place where no state aspires to be. Oklahoma incarcerates more women than any other state in the country and is No. 3 in the incarceration of its male citizens. Recently, the director of Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections unveiled the fact that his agency alone needed more than $1.5 billion to carry out its function.
Today, it appears that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has diverted more than $1 billion from the counties’ CIRB funds. Those funds when properly used are for County Roads, Bridges and other infrastructure. When those are not available, county commissioners are crippled in their efforts to provide citizens with a network of roads that are safe and essential for commerce.
The list doesn’t end there. Underfunding extends to virtually every single state agency. Their respective essential services are left undone because of the Legislature’s destructive policies.
Fairy Tales are just that, but Oklahoma’s Prairies Tales damage the quality of life of Oklahoma’s citizens now and potentially for generations and those citizens do not live happily ever after.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House