Save Our State Coalition announces Oklahoma budget wish list (NewsOK)

April 18, 2017

by Dale Denwalt

A coalition of 20 organizations on Tuesday presented its Oklahoma budget wish list, which includes familiar ideas to raise revenue.

The Save Our State Coalition proposed raising the tax rate on oil and gas production to 7 percent, up from the current 2 percent rate that lasts for the first three years. The group's “Blueprint for a Better Budget” also would create a new income tax rate of 6 percent for income above $200,000.

The group's first news conference was Tuesday, where several high-profile state Capitol advocates and other groups presented the plan. Leaders of the Save Our State Coalition include policy groups, grassroots organizations and groups representing teachers and state employees.

The plan resembles House Democrats' “Restoring Oklahoma” offering, but the two aren't identical. The Democrats are asking for a gross production tax rate of 5 percent and would implement a steeper tax curve, raising the top income tax rate to 7 percent.

Both plans would enact taxes on some services. Save Our State calculates that Oklahoma could net more than $90 million by adding a tax on repairs, digital downloads, landscaping, surveying and seven other services.

The Democrats want to raise more than $290 million by taxing services.

The coalition members worry that without clear ways to fill an $878 million shortfall in the budget starting July 1, important social services could be affected. Sterling Zearley, executive director for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said the state has lost more than 4,000 employees since 2008.

“We simply cannot afford any more agency reductions,” Zearley said. “A majority of those cuts come from agencies where we desperately need more workers, not fewer.”

Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt noted that several of the ideas have been supported by Democrats and GOP leadership.

The coalition's plan includes both revenue and expenditures. There is $300,000 for a teacher pay raise and millions more for public education. It includes enough money to cover rising costs of Medicaid.

Blatt said, however, that some details were left out.

“We didn't feel like it was our responsibility or our role to say, ‘This is exactly how many dollars needs to go to each priority,'” Blatt said.

It's uncommon for third-party groups to present their own detailed, comprehensive budget suggestions. State Rep. John Montgomery, R-Lawton, said he's never seen an outside group do that during his time at the Capitol.

“Honestly, I think as lawmakers we owe it to our constituents to listen to them,” Montgomery said.

Original story: http://newsok.com/save-our-state-coalition-announces-oklahoma-budget-wish-list/article/5545996

Press Release: Arts and Advocacy: Let’s Fix This Joins Oklahomans for the Arts to Train Advocates, Support Arts at Capitol

Arts and Advocacy: Let’s Fix This Joins Oklahomans for the Arts to Train Advocates, Support Arts at Capitol
 

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 11, 2017) — Two Oklahoma organizations will help Oklahoma leaders, artists, and arts advocates from across the state share stories of how art has impacted their lives with their legislators during Oklahoma Arts Day at the State Capitol.  

Let’s Fix This and Oklahomans for the Arts will offer ways that citizens can engage their statewide representatives to help raise awareness of the importance of investment in the arts in Oklahoma. Attendees will also hear from other local organizations as they demonstrate the impact of arts and humanities in their communities.

Andy Moore, executive director of Let’s Fix This, said the partnership between the two organizations just made sense.

“Our organization exists to help everyday citizens learn how to speak to their legislators so hosting a joint advocacy training with Oklahomans for the Arts benefits everyone,” Moore said. “Voters need to make our culture a driving issue, but many Oklahomans don’t equate neighborhood events or visual art to economic impact in our state. We’re here today to help change that.”

Oklahoma Arts Day begins with at 9 a.m. with advocacy training in the Blue Room, then continues with a Kickoff Rally at 10:30 a.m. on the second-floor rotunda.

You almost never hear the arts discussed at town halls or community meetings, where elected officials would realize how important it is to their constituents,’ said Julia Kirt, executive director, Oklahomans for the Arts. “Yet we forget that often what sets one day apart from another is some unique experience — how we felt after a play, a concert, a festival, a painting we saw or something we read. We’re here today to make sure our representatives understand that our arts and culture are a core voting issue.”

Following the 10:30 a.m. rally, advocates will meet with their legislators to share their personal stories of how arts and culture impacts them and their local communities.

Live music and interactive art displays will be part of the Capitol throughout the day. There will also be guided tours of the state art collection each hour.

The event is free and open to the public. More than 1,000 arts supporters participated last year.

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Click for complete schedule of the day’s events.

Watching HB 1270 at the Capitol as an Average Joe (NonDoc)

March 23, 2017
By William W. Savage III

 

Wednesday night at the Oklahoma State Capitol, I learned a lot about my personal privilege.

As a proud member of the underpaid media, it was not until I had wandered to the people’s house with a Let’s Fix This pub crawl that I realized how much behavioral leeway I typically have that “regular people” apparently don’t.

For instance, did you know that citizens are not allowed to record smartphone video of their legislators from the House gallery? I had forgotten that rule because I’ve always been able to identify myself as a journalist and strike some compromise about where I can stand to capture footage of the People’s Business.

Wednesday night, however, a humble Sergeant At Arms gently asked me to stop recording Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) as he passionately pontificated on food-stamp beneficiaries buying steaks and Red Bull at a Sequoyah County Wal-Mart.

I intentionally avoided claiming media privilege with the gentleman. I also resisted the temptation to walk 10 feet to my right and stand at the permanent TV-camera mount. I was trying to blend in as an Average Joe, with his shirt untucked and a beer in his belly.

Meanwhile, I wondered if Bennett knew that funny little cars actually drive around to dispense free Red Bulls.

‘Top-of-the-line stuff’

Bennett was debating in favor of HB 1270 (embedded below), a bill requiring the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and Oklahoma Department of Human Services to “verify” various pieces of information about the eligibility of Medicaid or food-stamp applicants. In Bennett’s eyes, the bill was a righteous attack on all the fake deadbeats and faux single moms out there. You know, freeloaders who are sucking that fat government teat of Medicaid and SNAP to their own affluence and the state’s budget-busting detriment.

Quoth Bennett:

So I’m standing in line at Wal-Mart the other day, and I notice that the people checking out in front of me are buying all of the top-of-the-line stuff. They were buying steaks, they had Red Bulls. They had all kinds of stuff in their cart, and it was overflowing. Which, you know, is not a surprise that people would enjoy higher-end stuff or high-quality stuff. That’s fine.

However, I was surprised when I saw those same people paid for those items with their welfare card. As I’m watching them put their costly items in their cart, I looked down at my own cart. My wife and I, we’ve got five kids, there’s seven of us we’ve got to feed, and we’ve got to set a budget for our groceries and our toiletries every single month. (…) I couldn’t help but think, something’s not right about that.

And then you walk out into the parking lot and, guess what, they get in a brand new Denali! Something ain’t right. So here I am buying the cheap items trying to stay within my budget while they’re buying all the best on my dime. How is that fair?
‘The lying liberal media’

While I had succeeded in feeling what it was like to visit the Capitol as an Average Joe with Let’s Fix This, Bennett’s reference to what is “fair” made me bothered by the chamber’s videography rules. Why should media have extra rights above those available to all?

Bennett, for one, dislikes media as much as he dislikes social-program leeches.

“Why should our money fund someone else’s lifestyle when they refuse to work?” Bennett asked in his debate. “Before you say it — and no doubt, the lying liberal media is going to say, ‘Well, he’s being unfair because he’s got a nice car or a nice house.’ Somehow, they’re going to say that somehow I don’t have a right to say anything about somebody who’s on welfare or talk about people who are poor. Well, let me tell you a little something about John Bennett. I grew up poor. Dirt poor. We were so poor we couldn’t even pay attention we were so poor.”

Ironically, Bennett seemed right about common people lacking the agency to “pay attention.” Aside from Let’s Fix This’s presence of about 15 people, the House gallery held only a half-dozen spectators for the conclusion of HB 1270’s two-hour consideration.

It was well after 9 p.m. Parents of young children were surely home. Bedtime stood on the horizon.

‘This is dumbfounding’

After Bennett and bill author Rep. Elise Hall (R-OKC) concluded debate in favor of HB 1270, House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) offered a critique in opposition. He ran through his usual laundry list of state policies that benefit wealthy Oklahomans and large corporations, saying he had always thought those were the main drains on state finances.

“I could have sworn that’s what it was. But tonight, Mr. Speaker, I got an education. My eyes have been opened. The light has shone down upon us,” Inman said. “The reason our public school children are suffering; the reason the University of Oklahoma has five million fewer dollars this year than it did in 1999; the reason our public safety system is staffed at 65 percent and incarcerated at 110 percent; the reason isn’t because of all those other things I’ve seen with my own eyes in the last 11 years. No, it’s because there’s some poor guy driving around in a Denali!”

The chamber echoed with laughter.

“Holy cow,” Inman said. “Or it’s that poor family — apparently at the Wal-Mart in Sequoyah County — who, after they shopped for their $75 worth of groceries with a SNAP card, got on an airplane and flew to Hawaii. This is dumbfounding. It’s just dumbfounding.”

Inman continued his righteous indignation. He hammered home his message about what poor people really need, and it had all the passion and fire necessary for a great campaign spot until he awkwardly uttered the phrase “a set of Twinkies” as a punchline.

Still, the potential gubernatorial candidate impressed much of the Let’s Fix This crowd, leading one woman to ask a telling question: “Who is that guy?”

A ‘travesty’?

When debate concluded and the voting bell tolled, Let’s Fix This director Andy Moore and I walked around the gallery to watch the scoreboard. The bill passed 63-25 along mostly party lines. Rep. Carol Bush (R-Tulsa), Rep. Marcus McEntire (R-Duncan) and Rep. Katie Henke (R-Tulsa) voted no.

Moore, a therapist, shook his head and said any bill making it harder for the low-income clients he sees to obtain Medicaid coverage will directly hurt children and families.

A constituent of co-author Hall’s, he called the bill a “travesty” on Twitter, which Hall questioned. Moore fired back:


And therein lies the purpose and value of Let’s Fix This, I suppose: The people most likely to be connected with low-income or even “Average Joe” Oklahomans are the Average Joes themselves. They are not high-priced lobbyists, and they are not even members of the media like me who can be blind to our own privilege.

Instead, they are often made to feel like the government is too powerful, confusing and off-limits for them to make a difference.

But that’s wrong. Public dollars pave the Capitol’s parking spaces.

Go park your Denali in one.

 

Press Release: Citizens Head to Capitol to Voice Concerns Over State Revenue

Citizens Head to Capitol to Voice Concerns Over State Revenue

Members of Let’s Fix This Host Second Capitol Event of 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 22, 2017) — This morning a passionate crowd of Oklahomans is gathering together at the State Capitol to encourage their legislators to pass measures that address the state’s revenue problems.

Nonpartisan group Let’s Fix This is hosting the day-long event to help everyday citizens overcome their fear of speaking with their legislators.

Andy Moore, executive director of Let’s Fix This, said the organizations’ Capitol events offer an opportunity for citizens to meet their legislators and voice their opinions in a comfortable environment.

“We’ve begun hosting these events to help people get more comfortable with engaging with their legislators and being at the Capitol,” Moore said. “Sometimes folks just need a little support and are more willing to speak up if there’s a group or a few friends with them, and that’s what we offer.”

Oklahomans are encouraged to meet at the State Capitol Building, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., at 9 a.m., Wednesday, March 22 in the Blue Room on the second floor.

“We’ve got some serious issues to discuss with our legislators today and they need our ideas and support now more than ever,” said Moore. “Our state needs to find new revenue sources and support public education, and legislators need to know that’s what matters to their constituents.”

For more information on the Let’s Fix This event, visit the Facebook event: Let's Fix This Capitol Days

To learn more about Let’s Fix It, check out the website at https://www.letsfixthisok.org/

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The Let’s Fix This organization began last legislative session with a simple idea from Andy Moore that if enough people felt encouraged to visit with their legislators, some positive changes could occur.