BY BRIAN RENEGAR
With that said, the challenges of education that have been highlighted by these recent events are only the tip of the iceberg to Oklahoma’s other problems. The other parts of the iceberg that lay beneath the water are Higher Ed [colleges and universities], mental health, corrections and rural healthcare.
With the over 40% cuts that we have put on most all agencies, it is rapidly catching up with us. Our state colleges and junior colleges that enroll over 52% of all student enrollment are in a crisis and I fear if we continue to cut them we may not have any junior colleges. Curriculums have been slashed and tuition has been constantly raised, which means students and parents of students have received the brunt of cuts to higher education.
As I have stated before and need to say again: In the United States “student loan debt is higher than all automobile loans and credit card debts combined.”
In the state of Oklahoma the highest return on investment is money appropriated to mental health. If you consider that instead of spending $1,000 per year on medication or therapy for a mental health patient, we are incarcerating them at a cost of $21,000 per year. When I first came into office the percentage of inmates on psychogenic drugs was around middle 40%. Today 64% of inmates are on psychogenic drugs. The waiting list for people to be seen by our mental health department continues to grow. The state mental health department has stated that 23% of Oklahomans are in need of some mental health treatment.
Corrections has been asking for an $800 million increase in funding and most legislators concede that we are only one major altercation away from the federal government taking over our corrections agency and mandating certain expenditures, much like they did in the latter years of the 20thCentury. I remember well U.S. District Judge Luther Bohannon and his corrections edicts. Folks, entitlements aren’t going to bankrupt Oklahoma, corrections appropriations will! Tell me there is nothing wrong when we spend $5,000-$6,000 on a school child and $21,000 on an inmate.
The Medicaid reimbursement rate to healthcare providers is ever decreasing and the end result is that fewer healthcare providers are seeing patients [and I don’t blame them] and those patients are receiving their primary care at our emergency rooms. That, my friends, is what has caused closure of at least eight rural hospitals and more to come.
OK, the experiment is over, the fat cats don’t stimulate the economy. There has been notrickle down effect from the corporations and the wealthy. In the last 10 years we have cut $1 billion from our budget with reduction of state income taxes, $1 billion from our budget with corporate tax credits and exemptions, and $900 million from our governor not expanding Medicaid. Our Medicaid expansion dollars were shifted to Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana. That was our own federal tax dollars not coming back to Oklahoma; that was the dumbest of all, thank you very much Mary Fallin.
All of this madness has got to stop! We have got to start electing people that are willing to turn this trend around.
Teachers galore have been here again this week. It has been very frustrating for all of them since House leadership has refused to bring up any of the bills that would provide additional revenue to restore money that would help to reduce class size, provide more support staff at a living wage and everyday supplies that many teachers have been purchasing themselves. I have had numerous teachers tell me how much they have learned about the process [some commented “a great civics lesson”] and just where the roadblocks are here at the Capitol.
If enough have truly learned this, maybe the tide will turn and we will see change beginning to take place.
– Veterinarian Brian Renegar, a McAlester Democrat, represents District 17 in the Oklahoma House