POSTED ON MAY 9, 2012:
Tinkle-down economics steer the Ship of State toward disaster
As we near the end of the legislation session, it's time to dust off the Crap-O-Meter.
The Crap-O-Meter. It's a device that goes to dinging whenever one of our erstwhile elected leaders spins a particularly preposterous line of ... well ... you know.
Here's what nearly caused the meter to overheat recently:
"At every turn, opponents have claimed cutting taxes would gut government, cause other taxes to rise and send Oklahoma backward. Time continues to prove those fears false. Today, government still functions just fine, the Legislature has raised no other taxes and Oklahoma is doing better than ever with a growing economy that boasts some of the best job growth and lowest unemployment in the nation at a time other states continue struggling to recover from the 2008 economic downturn."
Thus sayeth House Speaker Kris Steele, one not normally regarded as a prolific purveyor of political propaganda. Surely he just got carried away with his rhetoric. Or surely he winked to let all know he was being ironic. Surely?
No, he unfortunately followed up that assertion (published in the Oklahoman) with the same implausible line in subsequent public remarks.
Somewhere Pinocchio must be suffering a severe case of schnoz envy.
It is so unlike Steele to declare the sky is red when it is, in fact, blue. He is an honorable man -- indeed, a man of the cloth. He typically is a calm voice of reason in a world that thrives on overheated, often demonstrably false rhetoric.
Yet, here we are -- with reality that is far different from the picture the speaker paints:
Since the late 1990s, state lawmakers -- first under Democratic control, now under Republican dominance -- have cut the top state income tax rate from 7 percent to 5.25 percent.
That is nearly $1 billion in annual state revenues ... gone. Nearly 20 percent -- poof! -- missing from a $6 billion annual state budget.
With his comments, the speaker implies state government was bloated, sorely in need of belt-tightening. Cut $1 billion? Nobody even noticed. State government didn't skip a beat.
Maybe not the high-rollers who helped elect the Legislature's GOP majority, the same special interests that successfully fought efforts this year to rein in corporate welfare -- euphemistically known as tax credits, breaks or incentives -- that costs the state treasury billions more.
But regular Oklahomans are beginning to feel in the pinch:
More than 6,000 of our fellow residents are on waiting lists for mental health assistance. Many of our county jails are overcrowded because they've become the state's de facto mental hospitals (a very expensive way to treat mental illness).
Between 600 and 900 per day are on waiting lists for substance abuse help, thanks to lost federal block grants and declining state appropriations that combined to slash the state budget for such services from $87 million in 2008 to $69 million this year.
School class sizes are exploding. Thousands of teachers have been laid off; those who remain are America's 49th worst paid. Most state employees haven't had a raise in six years. Six years!
Oklahoma's bridges are consistently ranked the nation's worst. The state Capitol is crumbling (and rather than pay-as-you-go, lawmakers appear poised to borrow $160 million to repair it). The state needs $150 million more to fix its sorely under-funded Department of Human Services, including child welfare.
Yet, the speaker declareth: "Core services haven't been harmed to pay for tax cuts in the past and they won't be now!"
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! ...
The Crap-O-Meter has detected the unmistakable whiff of political B.S.
The brutal truth is things would be nearing Third World status in Oklahoma were it not for soaring oil prices that kept our economy in better shape than most states and $2.6 billion in federal stimulus money.
Yup, the reviled ol' Uncle Sugar has made it possible for Oklahoma's Republican-dominated, state Capitol leadership to pander to the masses with tax cuts, the full brunt of which won't be felt until later ... probably when oil, as it inevitably will, joins natural gas at the bottom of commodity barrel pricing.
Even so, Steele, Gov. Mary Fallin, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and other elected leaders are doubling down on a train wreck of a strategy, either too ignorant to grasp the shortsightedness of the pandering-at-all-cost strategy or praying the worst effects aren't felt until they are forced by term limits to leave office.
For Steele, the six-term limit is in sight at year's end. For Bingman, it's 2016. For Fallin, it's 2018. Assuming both can win re-election.
The GOP policy-makers, of course, will be guiding another tax cut -- amount to be determined -- through this year's session, yet again slashing hundreds of millions from essential state services.
And they appear poised to enact a series of triggers that eventually would eliminate the state income tax altogether. One-third of the state budget gone and all but irreplaceable, thanks to constitutional restrictions requiring a three-fourths legislative super-majority or statewide voter approval to raise taxes.
It won't matter, of course, to those steering the Ship of State (Titanic II?) today. They'll be long gone by then -- probably raking in much bigger bucks as special interest lobbyists or latching onto the public teat with some higher-paying, cushy state job that boosts their taxpayer-financed pensions into the stratosphere.
Even though history shows it's a fool's errand (see Reagan, Ronald), state elected Republicans embrace trickle-down economics with zest. They know it's a real pleaser for both their big money campaign donors -- and for the average taxpayer who somehow forgets taxes and services are directly linked.
Yes, indeed, the average taxpayer loves the thought of a tax cut until you start asking them which services they'd like to cut.
Starve the local schools? Forget the nearby highway project? Ignore the neighbor's health calamity? Abandon abused or neglected children?
Tinkle-down economics, anyone?
Oklahoma's promising future will be dashed if the Crap-O-Meter dings incessantly in the Legislature's final weeks.
Pray for silence -- and for common sense. Two virtues all-too-often in short supply at NE 23rd and Lincoln.
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