The end of the Oklahoma Legislative session is often a time for celebration and camaraderie, a time when foes can let loose knowing the game is momentarily over, sharing food and drink like battered meatheads at the end of a rugby tournament.
At the end of the 2016 session, Capitol insiders close to NonDoc seemed in no mood to party. Quite to the contrary, many people I spoke to spanned a negative spectrum from complete exhaustion to utter embarrassment for having been part of the 2016 Legislative Circus.
“I’ve got to find a new job before next year,” a Capitol staffer said only half in jest.
“I don’t know why I am running again,” offered a sitting lawmaker.
The reasons for such resigned negativity are obvious: What didn’t happen this year is, in many ways, bigger news than what did.
Despite legislative leaders like Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville) making the case that the passed budget is far better than it could have been, a reliance upon one-time spending and bonded road funds means lawmakers will likely head into the 2017 session facing many of the same revenue challenges.
Once again, the Legislature did not pass a teacher pay raise of any sort. The issue is so popular among voters that 24 House Republicans sent out a press release late in the session endorsing a teacher pay raise that Republican leadership wasn’t even proposing.
In addition, not even the support Gov. Mary Fallin could progress the Medicaid rebalancing plan that would have drawn hundreds of millions in federal funding to increase care access for low-income families. That did not come to pass, even with virtually every health care lobby in the state on board.
Days later, the hospital in Eufaula closed and reopened as a clinic. Hospitals across the state — like Epic Medical Center in Eufaula , which nearly closed in 2011 — have been struggling financially after being forced to absorb substantial Medicare cuts without the originally promised revenue increase that would come from Medicaid expansion. Er, rebalancing.
Further, the governor’s proposed sales-tax changes were barely embraced by the Legislature, and a landslide of higher education cuts will continue to damage every public college and university in Oklahoma.
In all, small and mid-sized communities across the state are left to watch as their public schools, public colleges and public hospitals continue to receive less money than they would need just to keep doing what they have been doing in years past. (Did your energy and insurance bills go down last year? I didn’t think so.)
The fact that many Oklahomans got a three-day weekend within hours of the 55th Legislature adjourning is perhaps the best silver lining to these clouds.
So, Happy Memorial Day, lest we forget to say it amid all of the statehouse drama. I, for one, am sorry that the aftermath of the important-but-frustrating way our state government functions coincides with a holiday weekend intended to honor those lost in military service. Alas, it does.
But for an informative explanation of Memorial Day, check out this recurring Washington Post feature.
It’s worth the read, and there will be a lot of time for reading between now and the 2017 Oklahoma session.
Things we saw (and heard)
State Sending Cash to Companies That Pay No Income Tax — OklahomaWatch.org
The child I love — RalstonReports.com
Feeling let down and left behind, with little hope for the better — New York Times
Oh, Oklahoma — The Economist
Quotes to note
I know that’s not a championship. But the championships, the records, the who’s the best player—there will always be new champions and new records and new players. What we’re talking about, these are jobs, these are lives, these are things that will matter for 40 years, and that is very cool to me.
— Kevin Durant to Sports Illustrated about watching Oklahoma City grow around him, 5/24/16
I don’t think the Legislature cares at all about their constituents.
— Jeanette Mendez, head of Oklahoma State University’s political science department, on the recent political climate, 5/29/16
The question of whether sex workers can meaningfully give consent can be asked of any worker in any industry, unless he or she is independently wealthy. The choice between sex work and starvation is not a perfectly free choice – but neither is the choice between street cleaning and starvation, or waitressing and penury.
— NewStatesman.com contributing editor and author Laurie Penny, on sex workers (and work in general), 5/26/16
Teacher shortage: Real or fabricated?
By John Thompson
Letter: ‘Demand justice at the ballot box in November’
Letters to the Editors