A lot of people started this legislative session feeling fairly optimistic - we believed the new leadership in the Oklahoma House & Senate were going to be thoughtful, reasonable, and empowering to the people of Oklahoma. We were prepared for the news of yet another revenue failure and an $878 million budget shortfall, but with so many people at the Capitol agreeing that the state isn't bringing in enough recenue to cover its expenses, we thought that we'd see multiple revenue measures pass through both chambers relatively quickly.
That's not what happened.
Instead, the Oklahoma legislature passed bills to make it harder for poor people to get food and healthcare, refused to even hear a bill to ensure women and men are paid equally, were found guilty of improperly using lottery money to supplant actual education funding, and, just this week, a state senator was arrested & charged with soliciting sex from an underage male prostitute. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Yesterday I sat in a meeting with leaders from organizations who advocate for the rights of women, children, education, churches, social workers, healthcare, the arts, criminal justice, and budget/tax policy (basically, all the key parts of society besides Big Corporate), and as we discussed what was actually happening at the Capitol and the potential ramifications of the legislature's inaction, the consensus was clear:
This is going to be really bad.
Sure, we've budget shortfalls the past couple of years, but the legislature had people who knew where to find money to help minimize the sting of the budget cuts. This year, that's not the case. We've used up most of the one-time monies, and thus far our current leadership has been either too timid or simply unwilling to do what really needs to be done to fix things. That's not just annoying and offensive; it's literally going to cost people their lives. To quote the Governor's own Finance Secretary, Preston Doerflinger: "Our situation is dire. I beg you to have an appreciation for the situation we have before us."
Mark my words, if the legislature doesn't do something to raise revenue (and a lot of it), it's going to get ugly. State agencies are already being asked to outline will happen if they get cut an another 15% next year. Cuts to education will be catastrophic for Oklahoma's education system; schools will close, students will drop out. Cuts to Medicaid, SNAP, and other safety net programs will have devastating effects for millions of Oklahomans. Oklahoma's roads and bridges are already some of the worst in the country, and failing to fund repairs will bring more potholes, more vehicle damage, and more bridge collapses.
Clearly the Oklahoma legislature doesn't get it, because we keep finding ourselves in this same position year after year after year. They've tried to "cut our way to prosperity;" that method hasn't worked. In fact, it's made things way worse. So, it's time for a different approach.
And that's why you must get involved.
I'm not being dramatic here. I'm trying to get you and all the other regular folks out there across the state to understand the gravity of the situation we're in. I need you to understand how serious this is so that you'll do something about it. And that something is to speak up, to communicate with your legislators however you can. Phone calls and emails are a great start, and they should be part of every citizen's efforts. But if you really want to make a difference, show up at your legislators' offices. Show up, meet with them face-to-face, and ask them what they're going to fix things. What solutions have they proposed? What solutions do they face? Stand there until they give you an answer. Tell them what ideas you support.
If you're not sure what revenue-boosting options the state has at their disposal, here's a great list. There's also a decent chance that your state legislators don't really know what options we have...which, again, is why we need to talk to them.
Saving the budget is not a partisan issue.
A sound and solid budget is required for the healthy functioning of our state, and there are TONS of things that pretty much everyone on both sides of the aisle agree on. Just off the top of my head, a quick list of some of those things that have broad, bipartisan support:
- Good public schools that are free for everyone
- Appropriate teacher pay
- Improving treatment for substance abuse and mental illness
- Healthcare and food assistance for the poor
- Reducing prison overcrowding
- Protecting consumers from skeezy business practices
- Clean air to breathe and water that is safe to drink
- Fixing bad roads and unsafe bridges
- Protecting children from being abused and neglected
- Making college more affordable
- Assessing taxes in a manner that is fair, equitable, and not overly burdensome
- Protecting the civil rights of all Oklahomans
I want those things, don't you? Doesn't everyone? I don't fully understand why the budget has become such a partisan issue, but I suspect it may have something to do with priorities. Not everyone at the state Capitol has the same priorities...and I suspect some legislators are prioritizing outside interests in order to protect their careers. I suspect that there are decisions being made to appease the voices at the Capitol who are the loudest, and sadly, it's not the voice of the people. Which brings me back to...
You. must. get. involved.
This is not optional. Seriously, you must get involved. I know a lot of people don't want to "be political." This isn't about being political; this is about being a good citizen. Heck, this is about being a good person. This is about caring for your neighbor who has cancer, this is about wanting your children or your grandchildren to be able to get a decent education, this is about helping the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. This is about living up to the Oklahoma Standard in our daily life, not just when there's an crisis. (Also, this is a crisis.)
Ok, ok, I get it. I'll get involved. But...how?
- Find out who your state legislators are. (Go here.)
- Decide what you want to say to them. (Use this.)
- Call or send them an email right now. (Here's a contact list.)
- Join us this Wednesday, March 22nd for our next Capitol Day.
- Can't make it this week? Plan ahead for April and May.
- Can't take off work? Come for a Capitol Crawl.
- Follow us on Twitter & Facebook for last-minute announcements and live coverage of our events.
- Vote in every single election you can. Sign up for TurboVote and/or register to vote by mail so you never miss another election.
Here's the thing: Whether or not you get involved, decisions about the budget will be made. And as we all know, decisions are made by those who show up. So if you want to have a say in them, you must get involved. I'm in this. I'm doing this, and so should you. Invite your BFF and come to our Capitol Day. I promise it'll be worthwhile.
See you then,