In yesterday’s Journal Record, guest columnist Arnold Hamilton crushed Oklahoma Republican leaders’ fragile explanation for the recently announced “revenue failure” with a 614-word sledgehammer.
In his column, Hamilton, who is also the Editor of The Oklahoma Observer, called the term “revenue failure” a misnomer. In his opinion, the whole mess should be more accurately labeled a “leadership” failure. Here is an excerpt:
“Sorry, elected Republicans, you own this one.
This crisis was absolutely predictable. As Republicans capitalized on the state’s latest energy boom to cut income taxes and expand corporate tax incentives, they were warned repeatedly that bad things could happen if they didn’t factor in an inevitable, cyclical decline in oil and gas tax revenues.
It wasn’t just liberals like me sounding the alarm. So did the Oklahoma Policy Institute, home of the state’s pre-eminent budget analysts. Even state Treasurer Ken Miller and state Auditor Gary Jones – Republicans, both – warned their GOP colleagues of the potential for catastrophic, self-inflicted wounds.
As House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, put it, ‘Republicans campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility, but instead they have presided over fiscal insanity. … It’s disingenuous to wring one’s hands in despair when the house is on fire, if you helped light the match.'”
There used to be a time when people who made mistakes would say, “I was wrong” and sometimes even, “I apologize.” Granted, this has always been a rare phenomena of politicians from both parties, but now it virtually NEVER happens.
Just as lying about what you did may be worse than what you did, refusing to admit an error may be worse than the error itself.
All human beings occasionally are wrong — trust me, I’ve had plenty of experience! Yet, an honest admission of error makes a person upright and sympathetic. In contrast, refusing to admit errors suggests weakness of character, deviousness or even megalomania.
The sort of person who tries to divert responsibility and refuses to admit a mistake does not belong in a leadership position.
The fact that State Budget Director, Preston Doerflinger, casually dismissed this projected one billion dollar shortfall as a “tremendous opportunity” illuminates the detachment of those in charge of our state budgeting process.
If our Governor was really concerned about supporting the essential services of our state–including our public schools–she could ask the legislature to postpone implementation of the quarter-point income tax reduction set to take place in January. This alone would bring $147 million back to the state coffers.
Lawmakers could also reconsider immediate repeal of numerous tax breaks and loopholes for corporations in our state.
The level of corporate cronyism in our state was clearly illustrated by this one sentence in this week’s budget report from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services:
Corporate income tax collections were entirely consumed by refunds and contributed nothing to the General Revenue Fund
That’s right, for the month of November, net income taxes from ALL corporations in the state of Oklahoma was zero, Nada, nothing.
At least our lawmakers are taking care of someone, right?
Additionally, in Oklahoma shouldn’t we have learned by now that oil and gas revenues are cyclical? How many oil booms and busts has Oklahoma gone through in its history?
Yet, as reported in US News and World Report, other states with oil and gas economies seem to have figured this pattern out and planned accordingly.
Some oil states, such as North Dakota, have squirreled away billions of dollars in oil and gas production revenue to help the state prepare for the bust cycle. That state’s voter-approved Legacy Fund, which includes 30 percent of taxes from oil and gas production, currently has a balance of $3.3 billion. By comparison, Oklahoma’s Rainy Day Fund, which already was used to fill a hole in the current year’s budget, now has a balance of about $385 million.
If our leaders had been more forward thinking when oil was selling at $100 a barrel by putting additional money aside to insulate our economy from future downturns–instead of giving tax gifts to corporations–perhaps we would not be trapped in this tunnel with an oncoming train.
Our lawmakers are disingenuous when they say this is a crisis that couldn’t be predicted. The reality is it is a crisis that many of them wanted.
Many want a smaller government, fewer social services, and fiscal austerity. They cuts taxes, maintain liberal tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, and irresponsibly tap one-time funds to shore up previous year’s budget shortfalls. They rewrite the constitution to make it nearly impossible to raise additional tax revenues now and in the future.
Admittedly, the current worldwide glut of oil and gas certainly contributes to our fiscal problems. At the same time, prudent and proactive leadership several years ago could have taken action to greatly ameliorate the severity of this problem.
Yet, even now not a single Republican legislator seems to be willing to stand up and say, “We were wrong” or “We need to fix our mistake.”
What seems to be at work here are political egos so enormous that personal pride and aloofness prevent an honest accounting — because this would be an admission they are not as brilliant as they publicly portray.
Instead, senior lawmakers persist in selling the narrative that Oklahoma’s schools have more money than ever and merely need to reapportion funds from medical and administrative costs to teacher pay. It’s just not true.
But telling the truth would mean having to say they made a mistake in the first place. That’s just not going to happen.
Regrettably, the song will remain the same as long as we keep the same people in the choir.
One third of our legislature will be term-limited next November. This will be our chance to vote in policy makers who truly support our schools and are willing to courageously lead. We did it on June 24, 2014 and we can do it again.
Furthermore, if we continue to experience this shameful quality of leadership we have now, it might be necessary to increase that number to TWO thirds!