Editor’s Note: The 55th Oklahoma Legislature is scheduled to be gaveled to order today at noon. Gov. Mary Fallin’s annual State of the State address will be carried live by OETA at 12:45 p.m.
BY DAVID PERRYMAN
A dance number performed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1937 classic movie, Shall We Dance, introduced us to George and Ira Gershwin’s memorable little ditty of a song playing with regional dialects and social-class hoity toity.
The scene, performed on roller skates, presents a series of common words, [i.e. either and neither] and nouns, [i.e. potato, banana and Havana] suggesting that since the two characters are so drastically different, their budding love affair will never endure time.
While the Gershwin brothers’ cinematic word play did not earn them an Oscar, it evolved into a part of our pop culture, leaving us with assurance that it doesn’t matter what you call it, a potato is always a potato. That concept had been around for centuries as evidenced by the famous line from Act II, Scene II of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, when in the Capulet’s orchard, Juliet said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Fast forward to state government in Oklahoma and a political phenomenon that is both dishonest and disheartening. Voters are no longer willing to exert the time and energy necessary to understand that our representative democracy can be destroyed by elected officials whose campaigns are based purely on spin, catch phrases and a tendency to prey upon basic human instincts.
Undefined, in fact undefinable, words such as liberal, progressive and conservative are venomously tossed about to simply motivate voters.
Politicians ignore common sense solutions to prison overcrowding because they do not want to be labeled as “soft on crime.” Oklahoma’s hospitals are abandoned to fiscal neglect and bankruptcy because “accepting federal funds” might be viewed as ObamaCare.
The dreaded “tax and spend” label is political suicide and everyone remembers George H.W. Bush’s unequivocal statement, “Read my lips, NO NEW TAXES” at the 1988 Republican National Convention followed two years later by a number of tax increases.
Oklahoma’s current version of this budgetary dishonesty is the tactic of increasing fees and costs of permits and licenses under the auspices of allowing departments and agencies to be better funded and then raiding those agency accounts to fill gaps other departments and other agencies.
For example, while Oklahomans do not particularly like enormous increases in the cost of drivers licenses, they will accept them as the means to hire and train driver examiners so that wait time for driver tests might be shortened from months to weeks. Likewise public safety employees such as highway patrolmen need raises. Imagine how dishonest it would be for the Legislature to harvest the revenue from these increased fees and divert it to purposes unrelated to public safety.
In 2014, more than $250 million was diverted by the Legislature from agency accounts in this manner and, according to remarks made by the governor in her inauguration address, she is considering a repeat of that exercise to the tune of up to $900 million.
The “acceptable” solution therefore appears to avoid calling them taxes even though they are revenues removed from the pockets of citizens.
Huh … Walks Like A Duck.
Not that the process is not painful. In fact, a bill has been filed this session to make the budget consideration – and the dishonest agency raiding process – have to occur only every other year.
If the bill is successful, Oklahoma will be halfway toward doing what Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were considering when they sung the Gershwin tune, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives