The State Capitol Building was closed last week for electrical system upgrades. And, no one really noticed since the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Legislature – called into special session a month ago to address budgetary shortfalls and a state financial crisis of epic proportions and of its own energy-shortage creation – was in recess, unwilling to get down to the necessary work of keeping our state viable.
Recess? That’ s an apt description for the people who played and frittered away all of last Spring before pushing through an obviously illegal tax – the demise of which triggered the current crisis.
Recess? That’s like saying the Duffer-in-Chief needs more time off to play golf.
Recess?Well, a Legislature with a recessive gene for incompetence could trigger a statewide recession if members don’t get their acts together soon.
The not-so-special session was convened Sept. 25 – the Republican failureship not having one plan to bring up for consideration.So, Gov. Mary Fallin produced a plan with the $1.50 per pack cigarette tax legitimately included (if unfairly assessed) and an increase in the state’s Gross Production Tax from the absurd two percent to five percent – still below the average in other states. She also proposed two new tax brackets for people earning more than $250,00 and then $500,000 and a six cents a gallon increase for gasoline. She announced it as a bi-partisan plan, and, a few days later, House Democrats announced their acceptance of its key parts, Minority Leader Scott Inman even suggesting Democrats might agree to a slightly smaller GPT – instead of seeking to return to the old days when a seven percent GPT did not discourage oil and gas production in the state.
But, not so fast. GOP House Speaker Charles McCall said that, while the governor and the Democrats might be in agreement, his party, which holds a 77-28 advantage in the House, was not ready to raise the money needed to keep state agencies afloat.
At that time – a full two-and-a-half weeks ago, Gov. Fallin said:
“Like the public, I am disappointed by the lack of progress in accomplishing these goals almost two weeks after the start of the special session….The clock is ticking toward some very serious consequences for nearly one million Oklahomans who depend on services provided by the Department of Mental Health, the Oklahoma Health Commission and the Department of Human services.”
So, faced with the prospect of harming one-fourth of the state’s population, Republican legislative failureship did nothing. I give the governor points for prescience on these matters. Headlines in last week’s Oklahoman, two days apart, were: “State agency cuts funding for child abuse prevention” and “Cuts imperil mental health system.” The latter headline carried the subhead of “Cuts will drive up crime, officials say.”
There are actually people who celebrate the suffering of their fellow citizens in the name of small government. But, as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Connie Johnson tells crowds, we form governments – and should fund them – to accomplish things beyond the means of individuals.
Still, one aspect of reduced government spending will undoubtedly gain favor from those who want responsible government. As reported by CNHI’s Janelle Stecklein in last week’s Banner, “several members of the Board on Legislative Compensation, tasked with setting lawmakers’ compensation said Tuesday (Oct. 13) they’re considering a pay cut.” According to Stecklein, board member Mike O’Neal said, “The message is you’re not working as smart as you ought to, number one. But, more importantly, when the citizens have to suffer, then all of us need to be a part of that.” Board Chair Wesley Milbourn added, “We’re very frustrated. We don’t like to see Oklahomans losing jobs. This is a performance issue. And income and salary ought to be based upon performance.”
This reminds us of the notion of governmental malpractice and sets the wheels of fancy daydreaming toward suing these do-nothing legislators for their incompetence. There’s a new, ever-renewable revenue source that warrants attention. Some folks will try to lay the blame solely on those who supposedly lead the Republicans. And, after a month of inaction, they finally suggested some stop-gap measures including raiding the state’s rainy day funds. But, if the back-benchers and rank-and-file legislators don’t have the courage to demand responsible action or to oust the incompetents, they are no better than the GOP failureship.
The work at the Capitol was to be finished in time for legislators to return this week. Let’s hope the electrical adjustments included wiring the seats for periodic bursts of inspiration to get our legislators off their duffs.
(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)