A Very Frank Letter

Ruth Ann Odom by Comment, Trent England by email and my high school buddy Gary Monteith by Facebook all ID’d the Petrified Forest in Arizona; this thinker is too limited to figure out who’s on first (I only know Watts on second) so will spend my Social Security COLA having lunch with friends.

After I published my last post, Let’s Be Frank About It , chiding the fellows at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs because their most high-profile board member, and former governor, Frank Keating had signed on to Step Up Oklahoma asking for tax increases to keep our state functioning, Frank himself penned a letter to the editor published in the Tulsa World on February 6; here it is:

I am a frustrated Oklahoman. We have suffered two revenue failures. We have done little to reduce the size of government and have done less to reform the bloat that we have. We want to give teachers a raise but we’ve given away the revenue base to the able-bodied on Medicaid, the wind industry and a cash-sucking public school and higher education bureaucracy that argues with straight faces that 500 school districts, scores of colleges and universities and off-campus campuses are spending our money prudently and educating our students well, despite the fact that our math, science and reading scores and graduation rates show us to be high on failure and low on achievement.

What to do?

It should come as an embarrassment to our political leaders but the business community has stepped up to say that enough is enough. They propose an assortment of reforms and taxes to avoid further state embarrassment. They are right to demand a bipartisan agreement. They have brought us to the table. We can no longer clear our throats and look out the window. Step Up Oklahoma should not be a package. It ought to be a process. Democrats want a $5,000 pay raise for teachers. Conservatives want Medicaid cuts, educational savings accounts, merger of career tech and community colleges, dramatic reduction of school districts and a cap on administrative overhead. To avoid shortfalls, the business leaders ask for sin taxes and restoration of a portion of the gross production tax. An increase of the income tax causes pain to working people so why not cover this piece with an end to the wind giveaways? Everything ought to be on the table. Nothing should be off the table. Both parties must give. It is summer 1787. Philadelphia. It is time to fix this place or it will fix us.

Wow!  That’s a lot to unpack, so just a few cold Saturday morning thoughts before I post another Thinker photo.

I didn’t realize Governor Mary Fallin is now a Democrat since she is asking for $289 million to fund $5,000 pay raises for teachers (would be the first increase in the minimum salary schedule in ten years).

Statewide the “cash-sucking public school…bureaucracy” is $165.6 million out of just over $6 billion recorded expenditures in FY 2016 which is 2.75%, and not enough for the teacher pay raise.  My “bureaucracy” measure is Function 2300, General Administration, that includes every dime spent on superintendents and other mandated general administrative services.  The total expenditures of $6 billion is Functions 1000 through 4700 only to avoid Double, Double, Toil and Trouble (double counting); see how easy it is, OCPA fellows.  I’m not saying 500 school districts are necessary, though I suspect the better arguments about consolidation are rooted in what’s best for the children served.  I also find it ironic that “conservatives” who whine about administrative costs are the same ones who grant Oklahoma’s “virtual” charter schools, i.e. no brick and mortar and no supervision of children while parents work, the same per student funding as is given to public charter schools that do operate buildings and supervise children—no bidding, competition or negotiation it seems is needed.

The “able-bodied on Medicaid” are a tiny fraction of that cost also.  Medicaid is mostly about nursing home costs, health care for the disabled, children and pregnant women.  See Making Medicaid Great by economist Robert Samuelson.  I’m all for eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in any government program, as long as the efforts to do so don’t cost more than we’re likely to save.  I suspect the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s ability to do eligibility audits has been greatly hampered by agency cut-backs in recent years (think Pogo).  Kind of like the last couple of years I’ve enjoyed driving our state highways knowing there are few troopers out there to inhibit my freedom to speed—at least until something happens and I need their help.

I wish it were “summer” but am glad it’s not “1787 Philadelphia”, see Who Wants to be a Billionaire?  (though 1972 Philadelphia was a pretty cool time and place to start our family at Penn’s hospital).  I doubt our founding fathers ever discussed imposing a 75% constitutional requirement to enact taxation; I wonder where Frank was in 1992 when our state’s “conservatives” set us on the road to failure.  See Brown Boys Dump Plan B on Oklahoma

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.



One thought on “A Very Frank Letter”

  1. Bravo! I have suggested Drew Edmondson use you as an advisor on this topic.- without your permission. Hope his campaign calls! Oh yes- Petrified Forest?

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