BY DAVID PERRYMAN
One of Aesop’s Fables reminds us of the grasshopper that spent its summer in the meadow hopping about chirping and singing to its heart’s content. One day, the grasshopper noticed an ant passing by bearing along with great toil an ear of corn that he was taking to his nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?” “I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
As the ant went on its way, the grasshopper called out, “Why bother about winter? There is plenty of food here in the meadow.” Soon the snows came and while the ants were distributing corn and grain to each other from the stores that they had collected in the summer, the grasshopper frantically searched everywhere but was able to find only a tiny morsel or two. Not long afterward, as the grasshopper lay starving, he realized that he would not live through the winter because his efforts at survival were too little, too late.
Too little, too late also characterizes the dire straits that the Oklahoma Legislature has imposed on the citizens of Oklahoma.
Actions like cutting the oil and gas production tax rate without considering the effects on the ability of Oklahoma to deliver essential services was reckless and irresponsible. The failure to remedy the situation by reversing those cuts is equally reprehensible.
Oil companies and the legislators who are controlled by oil companies have jeopardized Oklahoma’s budget for the past several years and continue to put government services and the people who are served at risk.
One such program that has served Oklahoma well is the Oklahoma Advantage Waiver. It is a program that allows 21,147 fragile Oklahomans who are nursing home qualified and/or developmentally disabled to live in their homes as opposed to being placed in a nursing home or other form of institutionalized care. The average cost of services to an Advantage Waiver patient is approximately $20 per day instead of the $160 per day that a nursing home costs. Oklahoma designed the Advantage Waiver and as a result has saved the state literally millions of dollars.
Much like the grasshopper who refused to acknowledge the coming of winter, legislative leaders last May intentionally, but discreetly, violated the state Constitution by appropriating a 10-month budget to DHS and calling it a 12-month budget. The intent of those leaders was to revisit the DHS budget during the 2018 legislative session when they would hopefully have additional revenues to make a supplemental appropriation for the final two months of the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
The deceit resulted in $29.1 million in DHS reductions during the current [2017-18] fiscal year, $9.2 million of which was a direct reduction to the Advantage Waiver Program.
Adopting budgets that don’t really balance and moving tax payment deadlines forward are some of the tricks that legislative leaders have used to keep from addressing the elephant in the room, that is, “When is the Legislature going to be honest and create a tax policy that provides recurring revenue for this and future fiscal years?”
Destroying the Advantage Waiver is detrimental to patients and their families who often are able to work only because their loved one has in-home care. Because of a likely increase in the number of falls and a decrease in medication provided by Advantage Waiver, elimination of the program places additional untenable burdens on rural hospitals and mental health facilities that are already losing millions of dollars per year through uncompensated care.
With in-home care being eliminated, there most assuredly will be an increase in adult protective services referrals and fewer APS workers will have even fewer providers to refer patients to. In-home providers will be forced to lay off workers who will no longer be taxpayers, thus further damaging Oklahoma’s economy.
Legislative leaders who have caused those cuts don’t like the heat that they are receiving from their constituents, so they posture and complain that they are being “terrorized” by state agencies that have been forced to cut programs such as Advantage Waiver.
Oklahoma, it is time to turn up the heat. Tell your legislator to increase gross production tax to at least the average in the region. Hopefully, it will not be too little, too late.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House