How Do You Like Them Apples?

If you are active in Oklahoma education policy discussions on social media, you are likely a follower of the Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education Facebook Group, started by Edmond parent and public education champion, Angela Clark Little.

Last week, prior to the defeat of House Bill 1054, a critically important piece of legislation which would have allowed our state to avoid devastating budget cuts, provide raises for teachers and state employees, and restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers, Angela posted the following admonition on the group page.

“The admin of this group decided that with this vote being so important, anyone who votes no today will automatically be disqualified for an 🍎 in 2018. No exceptions.

The “apples” Angela refers to in her statement are “awarded” by the group to specific legislators who have demonstrated through word and action they are supportive of public education and teachers in our state. The intent of the label is to clearly identify those in the Oklahoma House and Senate whom the group should support with our endorsements, donations, and eventually, our votes.

In case you missed it, here are the final results from Wednesday’s important up or down vote:

First of all, I would be remiss in not acknowledging the 71% of House members who saw this bill as what it was – a last-ditch, best-chance opportunity to avoid serious cuts to state agencies while fulfilling a pledge to state workers for a long overdue pay raise – and voted YES. It is also worth noting that NONE of the Senate 🍎’s voted against the revenue raising measure that unfortunately failed in the House this week.

At the same time, as a result of their NO votes on HB 1054 last Wednesday, it is now apparent we have a few spoiled apples in the House barrel.

How ’bout them apples?

Relative to disgraced former House Minority Leader and political hypocrite, Scott Inman, one of his colleagues in the House, Rep. Roger Ford (HD 95), summed up Inman’s pathetic NO vote better than I ever could:

“… the coward that snuck in the back door, gave another representative a thumbs down motion to vote for him and immediately walked out the back door. To that young man, everything I learned about you this past year has turned out to be true. You took great joy at throwing stones at others, while you yourself (sic) was living in a glass house. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.”

Rep. Ford was definitely on a roll in his FB post, adding:

“To the republicans and democrats still so wrapped up in your party, that you didn’t see those sweet faces today, you know the ones hoping you would fight for them. Well congratulations to you. You are officially a politician, instead of a human being.”

While I am certain each of the other representatives has his reasons for withholding support of this legislation, the reality is it was the best deal on the table for Oklahoma’s beleaguered service agencies and public education. No plan will ever be perfect and able to satisfy everyone. Other than filling the budget hole from the rainy day and other one-time funds coupled with across-the-board funding cuts, there is not another viable plan that can garner the 3/4 super-majority needed to pass revenue bills.

But, hey, at least we avoided draconian tax increases on the oil and gas industry, right? Passage of this legislation was predicted to cost the O&G industry about 2.6 million in higher gross production taxes in FY-18 and $13 million in FY-19. Again, just to remind everyone, the projected portion of this revenue bill that would have directly impacted O&G over the next two fiscal years was $15.6 million out of a total of $595 million — a measly 2.6% of the total. 

It appears that being literally faced with hundreds of O&G supporters bused into the Capitol on Wednesday to fill the galleries along with the potential loss of important campaign donations, too many of our House members were willing to give up their apple.

Case in point: Representatives McBride and Rogers both voted yes on a previous version of the bill which did not include the Gross Production Tax. When the GPT was added, their votes turned sour.

It appears that oil and apples don’t mix.

Oh, and that $3,000 pay raise for teachers promised by some after the defeat of State Question 779 last November? I guess that’s likely to be added to the ever-growing pile of broken promises made to educators over the past decade.

With the failure of HB 1054, there is no consensus on what happens next. The path forward is very uncertain, though without new revenues being added to the pot, it appears certain that additional cuts to agencies and schools are on the horizon.

And reported by David Blatt at the Oklahoma Policy Institute (OPI), “House and Senate leadership are intensely divided on how to proceed, and there are acute conflicts between the parties and within the caucuses in the House especially. The clock is ticking louder as the December 1st effective date rapidly approaches for agency cuts — which include termination of the ADvantage waiver for individuals with severe disabilities, 9 percent rate cuts for most Medicaid providers, and elimination or stark reduction of outpatient services for those with mental illness and addiction.”

It doesn’t look good, especially as we look into the next legislative session when we will start with at least a $500M hole to fill. As Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Depew, argued during debate on Wednesday, “The cuts we’ll have to make out of special session won’t be terrible, but the cuts we’ll have to make next summer will be brutal.”

In short, it might be a bad season for apples next year.

Of course, in 2018, Oklahomans will once again have the opportunity to clean the legislature of this bad fruit.

But, really, and I ask this with all due earnest. Will we?

Will we still remember these names 12 months from now?

Will we recall how we felt after suffering this stinging disappointment?

Will we even still care or will we have moved to other distractions?

Speaking for myself, I pledge to not forget. I hope I am not alone.

Here’s what I hope our message is for each of the legislators who decided to vote NO last week when it mattered most for us.

We know who you are and we have your number.

How do you like them apples?

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