Oklahoma Watch-Out Forum: ‘State’s Dilemma – Where Is the Money?’

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Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Minority Leader Scott Inman are the featured guests at the next “Oklahoma Watch-Out” public forum, which will focus on the state’s challenges in paying for services in the face of a possibly severe budget shortfall.

The forum will be on Tuesday, Oct. 20, from 6-7 p.m. at Kamp’s 1910 Café, located at 10 N.E. 10th Street in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma appears to be sliding into a financial vise, with predictions of a $1 billion budget shortfall that could force the biggest cutback in years in state programs, from health care to education. Is it time to raise taxes, and is that politically possible? What are Oklahoma’s greatest needs for state-funded support and should those areas be exempt from significant cuts?

Oklahoma Watch Executive Editor David Fritze will moderate a discussion about what options state leaders have. Those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP to events@oklahomawatch.org and come with questions.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview.

As the elected representative of District 58, Hickman, a Republican, has represented Alfalfa, Major, Woods and northeast Woodward counties in the Oklahoma House since 2004. He held a number of leadership positions prior to taking office as Speaker, serving as Speaker Pro Tempore from 2010 to 2012 and chairman of the Public Safety Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee. He also was a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committee, Energy and Aerospace Committee and the Agriculture and Wildlife Committee.

Hickman is a fifth generation farmer in Alfalfa and Woods counties. He is a graduate of Cherokee High School and earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, where he received the Letseizer Medal. Upon graduation, Hickman served as assistant to the president and athletic director and was public affairs special projects coordinator and university press secretary in the president’s office. He moved to Woodward, where he was vice president of Omni Media Group.

House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City.

House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City.

Inman, a Democrat, was elected to the Oklahoma House in November 2006 and began his fifth term in November 2014. He attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a B.A. in political science with a minor in Spanish. He received his juris doctorate from the OU College of Law.

Inman, of Del City, put his law practice on hold when he was elected in House District 94 in spring 2006. In May 2009, he was elected leader of the House Democratic Caucus, becoming the youngest person in state history to lead a caucus.

Inman has received various awards, including the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Friend of Justice Award, the George Nigh Award for Young Democratic Leadership, the Oklahoma Public Employee Associaton’s Legislator of the Year.

  • Justin

    My question is how was this not expected? We have cut the income tax rate by 29% and the gross production tax rate by 71% since 2006. We would be having an annual shortfall even if the price of oil and gas weren’t down and everyone should have known this. This is what the republicans ran on, they cut taxes, that created a shortfall, and now they are going to reduce the size of government. That was always the plan, the only question is what will they cut.

    Most of the budget is comprised of: Education-40%, health-21%, public safety-8%, social services-7% and transportation-3% so cuts will most likely come from these.

  • Okay, so I have a problem with raising taxes, but also, I am not an economist, so I have no answers. However, I do operate my own budget, and know that if I do not have the money for things, then I do not spend money I don’t have on items, and will figure out cheaper alternatives. Where I live I see schools being updated to make them look more ‘fancy and acceptable’ to people who have money, I see new street lights being installed on streets that it looks like daylight in the middle of the night, I see park equipment being installed that is seldom used by the children. Why not cut back on those things? I am certain that if we just cut out every other street light, let the streets be just a little darker, that would save a lot of money on electric costs and actually give or state more of a ‘green footprint’ in the ecology part of the world.

    Seriously, peoples budgets are stretched with the rising prices of groceries and healthcare, and taxing them more is not going to help anyone at all. I would think that if we were able to cut back on things that are more of a waste of money then that would free up a lot of money, but that is just what we do in our everyday lives. I mean, if you have a $400 electric bill, don’t you start shutting off lights when you are not in that room? If the child wants a new bicycle, then to tide things over, you repair their old bicycle for a fraction of the cost that a new one costs? If the family car is in need of repair, but you don’t have the budget to purchase a new one, then you consider that it is only two car payments to get the old car back on the street. It is common sense, but it seems that politicians no longer use common sense and just keep spending money they do not have in the old pocket book. The thought process needs to change, keep pay up for the teachers, keep repairing things that can be repaired, and not spend more money when the pocket book is starting to have moths in it.

    • Justin

      I understand where you are coming from, and truly no one does enjoy paying more taxes. The problem with you examples of waste though is that none of those expenditures are by the State. School rehabilitation are paid for with county level property tax. Streetlights and parks are paid for by your local municipal government.
      If you want to significantly cut state spending it would have to come from one of the following sources: common education (more children per teacher), higher education (higher tuition), transportation (more failing interstates), prisons (more overcrowding/less guards), or human services (less child abuse workers); because that is where over 70% of state dollars are spent.

    • Rob

      Schools are updated with money from school bonds. This money is voted in by local citizens in local elections and is spent by the local school board. The projects are listed prior to the vote. Because of the Oklahoma constitution and school laws this money, which is, in effect, borrowed, may not be spend on operations. This would include salaries. Most school systems spend 90% of their operational budget on salaries.

      While schools can update appearances, many schools have had to spend large amounts of bond money on technology updates. Technology updates are an allowable expense. Schools have been forced to update technology so that students can take the online tests mandated by the state legislature. These tests are all hosted on remote servers and require huge internet bandwidth.

      Up-to-date schools not only look better, they also use less energy and they have a huge positive impact on local real-estate values and the local economy. Towns with ugly schools do not grow. That is why local boards and citizens choose to vote up their taxes to fund these upgrades. Passing school bonds requires a 60% super majority.

  • Julia

    Did you stop to ask yourself what a silly question this is? The dishonesty of the current political conversation is enough to create cynics of all of us.
    Of course, we all know where the money is, your first responder was right, it’s in the hands of the rich who pay campaign funds to keep Republicans in office.
    The oil companies got a huge cut in production taxes and the rich continue to get cuts in all their taxes, and you still ask where the money is? Please.
    This state has become one that completely ignores the needs of the majority of the people in order to please their rich donors and religious zealots. And you wonder why the rest of the country looks upon Oklahoma as backward country bumpkins?
    A good question is when will the majority of Oklahomans realize that they’ve been had, and vote these people out of office?

  • Evan

    One need only read, “What’s the Matter With Kansas,” by Thomas Frank to get a grasp on Oklahoma’s governance problem. Paraphrasing; you vote for their stance on moral issues and inherit their failed economic policies. Then you ask later why morals remain in decline.

    The current Ten Commandments monument grandstanding represents cover for failed economic policies of the governor and legislature. The football game “The Conservative Republicans versus The Liberal Democrats” needs to stop, and right now. There is no greater threat to this state than the current economic crisis.

    Oklahomans seem to vote against their best interests at every turn. Not only did they vote for term limits, but also voted to require any tax increase to come to a vote of the people. This coupled with the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget has placed the state at the brink of bankruptcy.

    Basing an economy on the boom-bust cycle of the petroleum industry was proven unwise in the 1980’s. Yet the sitting legislature does not seem to grasp why (term limits). They also do not understand the concept of taxes versus tax revenue (tax cuts and probably failed public votes to increase such when essential). Tax cuts only work if there is increasing tax revenue. How long are these officials going to wait for trickle down before they understand it won’t?

    Anyone who has spent any time at the capitol understands. Due to term limits, state agencies have morphed into hangouts for lobbyists. Decisions are now made not by representative government but by appointed agency officials. Lobbyists ignore the legislature as partisan bickering keeps legislators and the governor occupied.

    Let’s focus on a rogue state agency. What projects have been approved by the Oklahoma Transportation Commission (OTA) recently? Look at the credentials of those who make such decisions. Look at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA). Look at projects like the $1 billion relocation of 6 miles of interstate 40 in downtown Oklahoma City, the $30 million redesign of the Norman Main Street I-35 exit, or the $71 million redesign of the SH-9 Lindsay Street-I-35 project (with a $2 million incentive if the project finishes early).

    Not only are these projects outlandish in scope but they also detract from urgently needed repairs across the state. The scope of the before mentioned projects will also come with massive maintenance requirements during their lifespan.

    Where is the oversight? Where is the public outcry? When you vote, please do so responsibly and base your decisions upon the character of the individual, not upon the party affiliation or the number of campaign signs they have spread across the landscape.

    • Justin

      Very well said, I totally agree.