BY ARNOLD HAMILTON
Of course, the way they performed this session, we’d hardly want to hold them back and give them another try.
An “F” doesn’t adequately describe the track wreck at NE 23rd and Lincoln Blvd. It was a complete, utter failure of leadership.
Despite the comical post-session spin from the governor, House speaker and Senate president, there is no way to whitewash the facts:
The Legislature did nothing – nothing – to show it is committed financially to a world-class public education system that will benefit Oklahomans for generations to come.
In fact, lawmakers made things worse: Rather than working to restore public ed funding – the nation’s deepest budget cuts the last five years – they made things worse.
They enacted a plan that potentially could cut state income taxes as much as .4% over the next few years, further reducing revenues necessary to fund education and other vital services and disproportionately benefiting the state’s wealthiest residents.
Even worse, lawmakers embraced a corporate welfare scheme breathtaking by even Oklahoma standards: They let the fat cats – Devon, Continental and Chesapeake – set their own tax rate.
By approving a preposterously low 2% tax for the first three years on horizontal drilling, lawmakers played a reverse Robin Hood role – they stole hundreds of millions in tax revenue from school kids and gave it to their wealthy political benefactors.
For the record: North Dakota, where the Bakken is arguably the nation’s hottest energy play, has an effective 11.5% tax rate on oil. Continental, for one, isn’t fleeing North Dakota kicking and screaming over the higher tax rate.
The GOP’s spin on education funding would be a hoot, if the consequences of their policies weren’t so dire.
Rep. Scott Martin, the House budget chair, claims lawmakers hiked K-12 funding about $200 million in the last two years.
As OKPolicy notes, it is true that FY 2015 funding will be $122 million more than FY 2013 – but half the increase went to increased health care costs and education reform measures.
Here’s the bottom line: K-12 funding next year will still be $44.9 million below what is was in FY 2009. And Oklahoma schools today are serving 40,000 more students.
The Legislature actually had another chance to prove its commitment to public education … but whiffed.
Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, and Sen. James Halligan, R-Stillwater, authored a measure that would have taken about $60 million a year off-the-top of the state kitty to bolster K-12 schools.
But the anti-public ed cabal – some want religious-based [indoctrination?] education, others want for-profit schools – finally killed it in a House-Senate conference committee.
I can hear the “government” school haters now: All you ever talk about is money – as if more money would guarantee better educational outcomes. The truth is, we in Oklahoma don’t know whether it would. We’re currently 49th in per pupil spending. And we’ve never funded public education at near the level of states that produce the best academic outcomes.
How about we give it a try – at least, just once?
– Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer
Editor’s Note: This is first in a series of post-session analyses that will appear at okobserver.org. The Observer’s June print edition also focuses on the 2014 session – an eight-page special report entitled, Worst Session Ever?: Schools, Workers, Women Take It On Chin As Rightwing Lawmakers Pander to Wealthy And Tea Partiers.