Broke Oklahoma

Imagine if we Oklahomans were as good at fixing a broke government as we are at fixing everything else. What would that look like?

Okies get together all the time and fix stuff that’s broken. In her 2016 State of the State Address, Gov. Mary Fallin talked about getting together and fixing the $1.3 billion budget hole. Talk is all there was. Nobody got together or fixed anything, despite virtually everybody knowing that we should be fixin’ to fix a broke Oklahoma.

Andy Moore, an average citizen, suggested, “Let’s Fix This,” believing that regular folks could fix a broke government, but they couldn’t. At least not this year.

When it comes to fixing our government, we seem stuck.

‘People mostly blame somebody or something else’

As a general rule, nobody in government says, “Yeah, we broke it. That was stupid. Could you give us a hand?”

Instead, people mostly blame somebody or something else. If somebody broke it, and nobody’s fessin’ up, there’s no reason to fix it, because they’ll just break it again.

It’s like that doorknob-shaped hole in the sheetrock behind the door: Maybe the perpetrator didn’t know they did it, maybe it was an accident, or maybe they did it on purpose. Until we know who did it, how and why, we can’t really expect anybody to help fix it.

In government as with life, if something broke that couldn’t be helped, that’s different. Maybe a gust of wind caught that door and threw it open. If so, we can probably figure out how to keep that from happening again. If we can agree on what caused it, people will pitch in, but if we just argue without agreeing on what caused the breakin’, most folks won’t lift a finger for the fixin’.

The 2016 #OKLEG session

Doesn’t that explain what happened to Oklahoma government this year? The state was broke. We knew it was broke by December 2015. In February, the Governor told the legislature they could fix it. “We can do it,” she said over and over again. Could have, but didn’t.


Tax cuts

David Walters: Partisan ideology takes its toll on budget by David Walters

We know why the state’s broke. We cut taxes during a boom. The boom busted (like they always do), and we didn’t plan for the bust even though we knew oil prices were falling like a rock in January of 2015. That’s right, January of 2015!

This year, somebody should have said, “Yeah, we broke it. That was stupid. Can you give us a hand?”

Instead, many legislators argued about people’s private parts, people of different religions and people who are lazy, greedy or mean. Since many people weren’t talking about how to keep the state from going broke again, it’s no wonder most people weren’t helping to fix it.

Politics should be no excuse. Republicans control the House, Senate and every statewide office. With that kind of political power, it would seem like they could have made anybody do anything, but instead they made everybody do nothing. And Democrats, they controlled the state for about 100 years. Surely they could have made somebody do something, but they didn’t make anybody do anything. I’m not saying nobody tried, but like Yoda said, “Do or do not, there is no try.”

Licking boots

What’s curious is that while they weren’t fixing the state, quite a few people were getting government pay raises and new government jobs, including jobs they weren’t even qualified for. It looks like instead of helping, some people were too busy licking boots. With that going on, it’s not too surprising the budget didn’t get fixed.

Imagine what we would be doing if we were really fixin’ to fix a broke Oklahoma. Wouldn’t there be some smart people putting the facts down on paper so everyone can see exactly what situation we’re in and why? Wouldn’t there be some people we trust coming up with some options about how to fix it? This is not something we can do on Facebook or Twitter. David Blatt and a handful of folks at the Oklahoma Policy Institute can’t do it all by themselves.

It raises questions about what type of culture we want to be.

Wouldn’t we rather have people focused on what we agree on instead of what we disagree about? For as long as people have been able to read and write, thinkers have been trying to agree on our values. The cowboy philosopher Will Rogers is famous for his thinking on government, but he stopped a long time ago. We could use a whole crew of Oklahomans like Will thinking about what makes us “us” instead of thinking about how to divide us into “us” and “them.”

We Oklahomans are stuck. Whether we went to Harvard or the school of hard knocks, and whether we have a billion dollars or live in a box, we know we’re in a fix.

We know it’s going to take serious folks spending serious time doing serious work to come up with some good ideas about how to fix our broke state. That raises a question a lot of people are asking: “Who’s going to pay for it?” That’s an easy question to answer: Whether we fix it or not, we’re all paying for it, and we’re going to keep paying for it. The upside to getting together to fix it is that it gets fixed.

When I imagine fixing our broke government, I see support for thinkers focused on common values, smart people presenting believable facts and solutions, and politicians who give us explanations instead of excuses. I think that’s what we’d see if we were really fixin’ to fix this broke state.