BY DAVID PERRYMAN
In the wee hours of a January 1947 morning, Lilly Williams was driving toward Montgomery, AL. Her passengers were her son and his band who a few months earlier had been rejected by the Grand Ole Opry. As Lily neared the city, she saw the distant lights of Dannelly Field, the local airport.
Lily attempted to wake up the sleeping band members to report that she had “seen the light.” Her son, Hank, stirred from a deep sleep to hear the phrase, “I saw the light.” Within hours Hank Williams had completed the lyrics and less than 90 days later, recorded for MGM Records, “I Saw The Light,” a gospel song for the ages.
Over the past several weeks, I have been one of about eight legislators [two from each party from each house] who were summoned to meet with a group of Oklahoma City business leaders who also are claiming to have “seen the light.” The gist of their presentation was that Oklahoma cannot sustain an educational system or health care without additional recurring revenue sources.
An epiphany is defined as a “sudden or striking realization.” Any group of Oklahomans whose list of recent epiphanies include the realization that public education in every corner of the state needs adequate funding or that the current devastation of rural health care is the direct result of destructive, politically-driven decisions of state leaders, has either been overly focused on their corporate balance sheet or is so blindly committed to partisan dogma that reality takes a back seat to rhetoric in their world.
As I looked around, I saw men who had fought for years to shift money from public education to private schools, to reduce the tax burden on corporations and high wage earners, to suppress wages, stifle equal pay and block working Oklahomans access to healthcare.
So therefore, it was refreshing to hear men in expensive suits and whose cufflinks cost more than my first car say that they were there to help. It was refreshing to hear them propose a plan that incorporated many of the proposals that the House Democrats had repeatedly put forth in our “Restore Oklahoma” plan.
It was refreshing to watch as their “solutions” displayed recognition that Oklahoma’s cuts to the oil and gas Gross Production Tax and income taxes for high wage earners had devastated Oklahoma’s ability to educate its children, neglected the needs of health care providers and compromised the ability of state agencies like the Department of Health to perform statutory duties directed by law.
There is much common ground upon which we can build. The group proposed changes to the state’s income tax system and offered a comparatively modest increase in the gross production tax rate in an attempt to stave off a citizens’ initiative petition that will, according to most polls, increase the GPT to 7%.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of the meetings is that the House Democrats [82% of whom voted for a similar plan in this year’s first special session] and Step Up Oklahoma seem unified in the belief that if we don’t invest in Oklahoma’s teachers, public employees, healthcare, education, roads and corrections, our entire state economy is left in peril.
While the devil is always in the details, the most serious non-fiscal impediments to the plan’s success is the businessmen’s demand for school voucher expansion, rural school consolidation and privatization of Medicaid.
In short, it is past time that these businessmen “see the light” and we are ready to work with them to build on common ground and form a budget solution that works for all Oklahomans.
It is interesting to note that when his mother woke Hank Williams to tell him that she had “seen the light,” he was inebriated in the back seat. That incident changed Hank and changed both country and gospel music.
Wouldn’t it be magnificent if this group’s epiphany actually changed them and changed Oklahoma.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House