Before the sizzling days of summer set in, and before May's tornado mayhem becomes a distant memory, let us pause to consider an inconvenient truth.
Oklahoma's elected elite gives its sugar daddies in the corporate world higher priority than it does our school children.
Unfair? Too harsh?
Not if you review the spending priorities of the state's political decision-makers.
Only hours after May 20's EF-5 mile-wide monster demolished Moore's Plaza Towers Elementary School and claimed the lives of seven students, lawmakers were urged to approve a bond issue that would have begun outfitting the state's public schools with safe rooms or shelters.
Not gonna happen, the Powers-That-Be decreed. The state can't afford it. Eleven days later, exactly one week after the Legislature closed up shop for the year, another EF-5 behemoth dropped from the sky near El Reno and wiped out the Canadian Valley Technology Center.
Gov. Fallin quickly joined the nothing-doing chorus, saying, "There will not be a state mandate that individuals or businesses or schools have to put in" shelters or safe rooms.
No one knows for certain what it would cost to outfit all our schools with tornado protections, but some estimates are as high as $2 billion. But the notion that Oklahoma can't afford it is laughable.
There is more than enough money pouring into the state treasury to make it happen -- even with $1 billion or so in short-sighted state income tax cuts enacted in the last decade.
It's a question of priorities.
Unfortunately, lawmakers are giving hundreds of millions of your tax dollars to private enterprise via tax breaks, credits, and other incentives.
Money that could be spent retrofitting schools is going to "promote" business and employment opportunities -- even though there is ample evidence that many of the giveaways haven't produced a single job.
So why won't legislative leaders review the tax breaks and eliminate the corporate welfare?
The folks feasting at the taxpayers' trough are the same who write the campaign checks that keep Republicans in power at 23rd and Lincoln.
Lest you think this is a partisan indictment of the current GOP-dominated regime, be advised: Democrats played the game, too, when they controlled the system.
The real problem: the masses let them get by with it.
There is some good news to report: evidence rank-and-file Oklahomans are catching on to the pay-for-play shenanigans. A recent statewide survey, commissioned by the Tulsa-based Oklahoma Policy Institute (OKPolicy), found that by a more than 2-1 margin, Oklahoma voters oppose tax breaks to oil and gas companies for horizontal drilling.
This isn't a knee-jerk reaction to $4-plus gasoline at the pump or a sudden disgust with the wealth amassed by the state's energy elite. It's simple logic: When the tax breaks were first enacted, horizontal drilling was new. Now, it's the preferred method, and it's costing the state treasury dearly.
According to OKPolicy, the state paid out or accrued $537 million in tax rebates and credits for horizontal wells between fiscal years 2010 and 2012. The cost to taxpayers could reach $400 million a year.
What will the legislative majority do? Public policy says tax breaks should be eliminated. Politics warns of dire electoral consequences if campaign donors are scorned.
Alas, there is little reason to believe the Legislature will do the right thing -- unless a voting public that clearly opposes such corporate welfare turns up the heat.
Sen. Mike Mazzei of Tulsa and Rep. David Dank of Oklahoma City, both members of the Republican majority, have tried to persuade colleagues to review the tax breaks, credits, and incentives. They haven't succeeded, but their efforts clearly haven't gone unnoticed. The OKPolicy-commissioned poll reflects a greater public understanding of the issue.
Hilarious and maddening is that Republicans depict themselves as the party of free enterprise capitalism. But this is picking winners and losers -- something the GOP accuses Democrats in Washington of doing. This is a system that either guarantees higher profits for private businesses or socializes their losses. Corporate welfare.
If ever there was a time lawmakers would be sensitive to public perception, it would be now, right?
Around the globe, people are asking: How could a state prone to tornadoes not equip its public schools with shelters that protect children, teachers and staff?
One answer is Oklahomans long thought their schools were built well enough to ensure safety. What's changed is the state has endured increasingly more powerful tornadoes in recent years -- winds all-too-often topping 200 miles per hour.
It's no longer enough to be in an interior hall or closet. You need to be underground in a safe room or out of the way to ensure your best chance of survival.
In the wake of the May 20 deaths at Plaza Towers Elementary, state Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs) urged legislative leaders to authorize a bond issue to finance a shelter program. His idea went nowhere.
Cost is the most-often mentioned excuse. But there's also a political calculus about "bonds."
State and local governments and school districts long have issued bonds to finance major projects, but Tea Partiers have demagogued the term to the point it now equals "deficit spending" in the minds of too many voters. Indeed, staunchly conservative Republican lawmakers won't even consider a bond issue for fear they could lose in their primaries to a challenger even farther to the right.
Moreover, legislative leaders know attention spans are short. In the days and weeks after Sandy Hook, new gun control measures seemed a certainty. By spring, the momentum all but evaporated.
The same thing could happen in Oklahoma. As neighborhoods, schools and businesses are rebuilt, as life returns to normal, the sense of urgency fades.
But only if we let it.
If the safety of school children, teachers and staff is the priority we claim it to be, we shouldn't sit idly as legislative leaders proclaim poverty while allowing corporate welfare to siphon our tax dollars away from our most important priorities.
We should instead encourage Mazzei and Dank and alert other legislators that we expect a change.
Then, we should support Dorman's idea of a statewide vote on a bond issue to begin retrofitting our schools. If approved, the tab could easily be repaid with money saved from eliminating spurious tax credits.
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