BY RICHARD MORRISSETTE
The Republican-dominated Legislature manages the state government with a meat axe; they excel at cutting – taxes and services alike.
They carved more than $1 billion out of the state treasury. They did so by slashing the gross production tax and the state income tax.
The tax on oil and gas production was reduced from 7% to 1%-2% when wells are most productive, then bumped back up to 7% when the wells are the least productive. Does that make sense to you?
The GOP also cut the income tax, the state’s biggest revenue producer, from 7% to 5%. This was done despite the misgivings of the Republican state treasurer, who advised the Republican Legislature and the Republican governor that it was unwise to reduce the income tax without replacing it with some alternative source of revenue.
As a direct consequence, the state government has experienced a series of revenue failures. The revenue shortfalls have totaled $2.9 billion – that’s billion with a “b” – in the last four years.
Because of these deficits, deep cuts have been imposed in myriad programs and services.
Approximately 100 school districts have gone to four-day school weeks. Non-certified teachers have been hired by the hundreds to replace certified Oklahoma teachers who have retired or moved to other states where the paychecks are much higher.
Several hospitals have declared bankruptcy and medical provider rates have been cut repeatedly. Senior nutrition centers and driver license examination sites across the state have been scaled back or closed down entirely for lack of funding.
Just recently the administration of Cordell Memorial Hospital announced it could no longer provide the special supplemental nutrition program known as the Women, Infants and Children program.
The WIC program is funded with federal money and usually administered by county health departments. In Washita County, however, the hospital agreed to provide registered nurses and office workers to Washita County Health Services to fill the need. “It just got difficult on us to have to staff that when we’re hurting as much as we are at the hospital,” the hospital’s CEO explained.
For people who use WIC services in Cordell, which has about 1,000 visits each year, the nearest alternative site will be 15 miles away in Clinton. The problem is that many lower-income women who need the WIC service can’t afford an automobile or can’t afford to make the drive on a regular basis.
As state government continues to cut back, the financial burden is shifting to counties, cities and towns. Is that what you would consider sound fiscal policy? Whatever happened to the belief that a rising tide lifts all boats?
The ship of state is rudderless, drifting aimlessly, and its captain, Gov. Mary Fallin, has been off to Tulsa or Washington, DC, anywhere except where she needs to be – at the State Capitol, working tirelessly to develop some consensus in our fractured Legislature to solve this state’s systemic revenue problems.
– Richard Morrissette is a south Oklahoma City attorney and Democrat who represented District 92 in the Oklahoma House for 12 years