Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Education Caucus Knows Not What they Do

By the Watchman 
  It didn't take long to start talking about the State Budget after the election and we are glad that it is. We decided to report on this subject at this time based on this article here From Ken Miller: Oil and gas tax collections edge up in October gross receipts report. For the first time in eighteen months state revenues showed an increase. A very modest increase at best coming in at just over three percent (3.1%). It falls well short of being able to cover the projected $700 million dollar budget shortfall expected this year. Ladies and Gentlemen that comes to a total of right at $2 billion dollars of a shortfall in our budget over two years. A shortfall that we the citizens have to pay for. We ask the newly formed Education Caucus who they propose to sacrifice in order to give their fellow educators the pay raises they deserve and need. With reports of proposals of between $5,000 and $10,000 dollar increases and the serious shortage of funding we are interested in seeing their proposals.

  The next article of interest we found was this Oklahoma state budget and finances - Ballotpedia. Now the figures on this document date from 2014, however they are the most current records available. They do indicate a decrease in spending in the state, but we feel these figures are misleading. This document indicates that Property taxes are not collected. Each county in the state does in fact collect property taxes. These taxes are a primary source for school funding. That would change the entire picture on the percentage of school funding.
  The next article of interest we found was this Why Are School Districts Sitting on So Much Cash?OCPA - Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. What we found so interesting about this article is that it indicates that the individual school districts and not the state has been the cause of the failure to give pay raises to the teachers themselves. As a prime example Tulsa Union used $87,812,848.00 million dollars carried over from the previous year as part of the fiscal year 2015 budget. The figures for the 2016 fiscal year have not been released yet however we do know that over one hundred administrators and an additional 100 teachers were laid off this year. Some of the cost savings was used to give pay raises to some of the senior administrators. Yet every year they ask for more funding claiming it's for the children? Apparently not in Tulsa.

As everyone knows, Oklahoma has a required Balanced Budget Amendment in its State Constitution. The last revision to this amendment was presented to the People for a vote in 1985. You can see the entire legislation here https://www.sos.ok.gov/documents/questions/587.pdf. We urge you to open this link and read the document. It references Section 10 of the State Constitution that in effect allows the state to take on debt.

  The first article referenced is this Section X-23 :: Oklahoma Constitution :: Oklahoma Law :: US Law :: Justia. This tells the state exactly how they are to go about preparing the budget and distributing the funds. It actually lays out the procedure that is to be followed in the event of excess funds becoming available. This causes us to ask why they had so much trouble with the funds that became available after the close of the last legislative session.

  The next article referenced is this Section X-23a :: Oklahoma Constitution :: Oklahoma Law :: US Law :: Justia. This tells the state what is supposed to happen to surplus funds accruing to General Revenue Fund. Now if the state is supposed to have a balanced budget why are we paying interest on bonded debt. With the bloated government can we no longer afford to live within our own means. Apparently not.

  The next article of interest we found was this Oklahoma : State Data and Comparisons : State Data Lab. We aren't going to ask you to take our word for it. We ask that you open this link and read the report for yourself. For a state that is supposed to have a balanced budget, why did we start the last fiscal year with each citizen of this state owing the state government two thousand eight hundred dollars (2,800.00?). To us that sounds like the state has put us into debt in violation of the constitution. This is a six hundred dollar ($600.00) increase from the year before.

  The next article of interest we found was this $141 million Oklahoma budget surplus to be returned to state agencies. Last year the legislature failed to close the 1.3 billion dollar budget gap. They actually found a surplus in the budget of $141 million dollars. To her credit the Governor wanted to use these funds to jump start a pay raise for the teachers. The legislature distributed the funds throughout the various agencies with education receiving a hefty $40 million dollars of those funds.

 The next article of interest we found was this Few emerge as winners in budget approved by Oklahoma Legislature - Tulsa World:. This article is correct; there were no winners in the budget last year. Education suffered the less out of all departments of all. We can understand their frustration. We also understand their reason for wanting to attempt to gain the pay raise through a state question. But trying to raise a tax to get it was a bad move. For all those college degrees they couldn't recognize the fact that the one tax putting Oklahoma at the top of the most taxed list in the country would drive business's both large and small away. This article also indicates that the Republican leaders proudly announced that they had bridged the budget gap without raising taxes. Technically they may be right. Instead of raising your taxes they canceled your tax decrease that was scheduled for this year. They also raised fees on everything they could think of. Of interest w

  Now if you listened to the local news reports you would thing that Oklahoma Schools were the only ones that faced deep budget cuts last year. Then we found this article Most States Have Cut School Funding, and Some Continue Cutting | Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Now this doesn't change our opinion that the teachers are past due for a pay raise, we did include it to let our readers know that the teachers in Oklahoma aren't the only ones to see a decline in funding last school year. In short what we were being told was nothing short of propaganda. They claim the actions of crafting the budget were open and sincere however no Democrats or civilians were allowed into the meetings. That doesn't sound like fair, open and sincere to us.

  The next article of interest we found was this CAGW and OCPA Release Oklahoma Piglet Book | Citizens Against Government Waste. We do recognize that this report is several years old, but the principal holds true today even as it did in 2004. It indicates that legislators continue to direct state tax dollars to pet projects for those who contribute to their campaigns. In short they are bought off.

  The next article of interest we found was this Reasons and Troubles Behind Secretive Crafting of State Budget | Oklahoma Watch. One of the biggest reasons is the lack of transparency in crafting the budget. It would appear that our legislators are dead set on making Oklahoma come in at the bottom or as close to the bottom of things we can get. When it came to openness and transparency on the budget Oklahoma came in forty-fifth out of 50.As the most corrupt state in the union we should be use to this by now.

  Another item that the main stream media has failed to report on is the fact that Oklahoma has been in a recession for eighteen months now. This is in part due to the oil field bust. The next article that came to our attention was this States' Personal Income Shows Uneven Economic Recovery. This indicates that the personal income for Oklahoma residents has gone up by only 2.2% since 2009. That doesn't include the fact that the unemployment rate is higher now than the national rate. The economic situation doesn't look good.

  The next article of interest we found was this Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis. This report indicates that since the 2008 recession 31 states have shown tax revenue growth. For a while Oklahoma was ranked among those states. For the last 6 quarters tax revenue has shrunk. That has put the state into a recession as the people in D.C. are calling it, but in reality the length of time involved qualifies it to be called a depression. For the first time in over a decade our unemployment rate is higher than the national average. The only solution our elected officials are capable of coming up with is to raise taxes and fees. It appears that our state Republican elected officials are as bad as Democrats when it comes to tax and spend.

  The next article we found will soundly tell you where our legislators have placed their priorities. It's not in educating our children. You can see it here When oil boom went bust, Oklahoma helped drillers and squeezed schools. Most if not all of us have experienced some financial hardship in our time. We didn't go to a lobbyist to get the legislators to pass legislation to ensure that we would get a permanent tax break. We tightened our belts and did the best we could. During the last legislative session our legislature and Governor protected the drillers while denying our schools to the tune of $470 million dollars. Instead the legislature has looked at a total of $289 million dollars in cuts of tax credits over the last two years. We can only guess they had to fund those tax credits to the oil and gas industry somehow.

  The next article of interest we found was this It's the revenue, stupid! (Guest post: Ken Miller). This report is from April of 2016 and indicates the 12th consecutive month of falling collections. It only takes six months to be declared a recession. We have now hit the eighteenth month which is a technical depression. It's not being called that because everyone at the State Capital is afraid they would lose their jobs. They are probably right.

  The next article of interest we found was this State Treasurer Ken Miller – The Journal Record. We do urge you to open this link and read the several articles within. They are all very informative.

  The next article of interest we found was this State economists predict downward trend in Fiscal Year 2016 | News | normantranscript.com. This report is from December of 2015, and it was a gloomy but accurate report. It was a little off on the numbers but it did predict the actual shortfall in the budget. What makes it worse is the fact that we have seen projections for next year and they don't look much better. State agencies should prepare to do more belts tightening.

  There are a lot of questions raised by this report. A lot of answers have been given also. It's painfully clear that the budget process needs to be more transparent to the citizens of the state of Oklahoma. It's our money we deserve the right to know how it's being spent. Any and all tax credits should be put to the vote of the people. Once again it's our money we deserve to know how it's being used.

  The current turnpike projects that are under construction will make Oklahoma the state with the number of highest miles of turnpikes in the nation. That too must stop. For far too long Governors have used these as a legacy for the end of their terms in office. Once a turnpike is paid for, it should be turned over to the state as a highway. Income from these turnpikes should go to pay the bonds and maintenance until then. All excess funds should be made available to the state general funds.

  A law should be enacted to deny legislators and lobbyist from having contact while that legislator is in office. That will prevent the buying of votes. Legislators should not be allowed to donate to other legislator's campaign funds.

  People like to call Oklahoma the reddest state in the nation, but they don't live here. Yes the Republicans hold all the State elected seats and a majority in both chambers of Congress, but 90% of them act like Democrats. They love to tax and spend. They have thrown the party platform out of the window.

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