Oklahoma Governor Fallin’s budget for fiscal year 2011 called for cuts in common education to be limited to 3%. But legislative leaders have indicated that some bond proposals made in Governor Fallin’s budget will not be accepted by the legislature. This means state funding cuts will be worse than projected. Education, which was to be cut by 3%, will likely be cut by 5% to 7%. And many other state agencies face cuts of 7% or more.
Between 2004 and 2006 the state income tax was cut from 6.65 percent to 5.5 percent. Those cuts cost the state $777 million in 2010, more than the entire $500 million funding shortfall for the new fiscal year. Also bear in mind that the state tax code includes over $5.6 billion in tax exemptions.
Consider these sobering rankings:
And looking beyond education:
- our state roads are ranked 46th in the nation
- our bridges are ranked as the second worst in the nation
Yet our politicians continue to cut state funding even amidst huge shortfalls.
Oklahoma is indeed in the Bible Belt, yet consider these social rankings:
- our female incarceration rate is the highest in the nation
- our male incarceration rate is fourth highest in the nation
- our gambling rate is second in the nation, with the second most casinos in the nation
- our non-marijuana illicit drug use rate is third highest in the nation
- our adult smoking rate is third highest in the nation
- our teen pregnancy rate is fifth highest in the nation
- our rate of people subscribing to online pornography is fifth highest in the nation
- our adult obesity rate is sixth highest in the nation
How many of these social problems are helped by cutting taxes, which in turn cuts state and local services?
Thousands of Oklahoma teachers were laid off last year, and another 5% state budget cut would likely mean at least another 2,000 Oklahoma teachers will lose their jobs this year. Yet this session both the legislature and the governor refused to stop yet another income tax cut, reducing the rate from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent.
That cut taxes by another $120 million per year. Yet, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, 80% of Oklahoma households will see little or no direct benefit from the cut. Because income taxes are progressive, nearly 3/4 of the $120-million tax cut will go to the wealthiest 20 percent of households – those with earnings of more than $86,000 a year. 43% of Oklahoma households will see no tax benefit at all from the reduction. While the median benefit will be a paltry $24, the cut will put an average of $1,930 into the pockets of the wealthiest 1 percent of Oklahomans.
So do not believe state politicians when they say there was little they could do about the funding shortfalls. They deliberately made them worse than ever, despite a horrific list of social ills, a crumbling transportation infrastructure, and some of the most poorly funded schools and underpaid teachers in the nation.
And need I point out that our state’s legislators are paid more than twice the regional average, while the teachers are paid the lowest in the region at over $3,600 below the regional average? Whose side are they on? Follow the money.