By Representative George Faught
There are differing viewpoints on the answer to fixing our state budget woes, but the issue at hand is protecting and funding our core services. While I take my role as State Representative very seriously, I understand that I will never make everybody happy. I tell my constituents what my beliefs and core principles are when I am asking for their vote. Integrity demands that I am true to my word and every decision made as a legislator means that both the benefits and consequences of each measure presented must be weighed before making a decision. Believe me, there are no easy answers!
It is important to note that even if HB1054 had passed with the required 76 votes, the monies generated would not have been appropriated until March 1st, 2018. The immediate crisis facing DHS (specifically the Advantage Waver program) would not have been averted by passage of this bill. The good news is that in addition to available Rainy Day funds and recent revenue upturns, there is more than enough in numerous state revolving accounts that can be tapped to appropriate the necessary dollars to keep the core services provided to our citizens.
This Special Session should have dealt solely with the current deficit created when the State Supreme Court overturned the Cigarette “fee”, ruling it unconstitutional. Digging the financial hole twice as deep and compounding the problem with added spending in a time when sufficient funds are not there and when our state is slowly but surely emerging from a deep national recession is reckless and irresponsible. Raising taxes at this time actually threatens to stall or possibly even reverse the fragile economic recovery we have started to see. In a two- income family, if one wage earner loses their job, the family doesn’t decide to buy a new car and go further in debt – state government shouldn’t increase spending until we regain a sure financial footing. Recovery is occurring and we are seeing some very encouraging numbers as our revenues are gradually increasing, but unfortunately, it doesn’t happen overnight. Raising taxes should always be a last resort.
Oklahomans solidly rejected a tax increase 12 months ago when they voted down the Education Penny Sales Tax at the polls. They had the opportunity, but rejected a one cent permanent increase in sales tax even though it was targeted to Education. This wasn’t because they were not in support of our teachers, but because they felt they were taxed enough already. Had HB1054 passed, it would have been the largest tax increase in Oklahoma history.
Over the last few weeks, it has come to light that several state agencies have been lying to legislature and the people of Oklahoma about the monies they have been allocated. Millions of taxpayer dollars which come from hard-working Oklahoma families and small businesses have been squandered and misused. This is totally unacceptable. We should demand audits and oversight on agencies before they misspend another dime of taxpayer money. Continuing to appropriate funds to these agencies without accountability is a dereliction of our duty.
The House already has passed funding to get DHS and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services through this current crisis. The Department of Health shortfall will be covered as well. Contrary to what people are hearing from the news, there IS money to address the issue at hand. We can “plug the hole” WITHOUT raising taxes. Agency heads are publicly threatening to make the most dramatic and harmful cuts to create a bigger crisis rather than doing what is necessary to avoid them. Fanning the flames of fear on our most vulnerable citizens in unconscionable and simply “government bullying.” An acceptable measure has been passed by the House which fills the budget hole. The Senate and Governor should stop grandstanding and address the issue at hand. Additional spending can be brought up at the appropriate time – during the next regular session.
In order to provide long-awaited pay raises for teachers and state employees, we need to have the funds to sustain those increases year after year. However, missing monies, illegal payments and irregularities in accounting must be addressed before simply passing a higher tax burden on to our citizens. As a side note, these pay raises would not have gone into effect until August of 2018 – another reason to address this issue in the next legislative session.
Rep. George Faught represents Oklahoma House District 14 covering Cherokee and Muskogee Counties. He can be reached at (405) 557-7310 or email@example.com.