What's On Your Agenda?

What’s on Your Agenda? - November 29, 2015

State Representative David Perryman

Although the 2016, Oklahoma State Legislative Session does not officially begin until next February, like many legislators I am listening to constituent concerns and reviewing potential legislation that may be filed for consideration next year. December 11 is the last day to request legislation and I welcome your comments.

While all eyes and ears have been on getting past a predicted $1 Billion budget gap, recent cuts to mental health funding, road and bridges, higher education and career tech underscore that there is no relief in sight for Oklahoma’s woefully underpaid public school teachers. One would think that everyone would be pulling together to protect threatened state services from cuts that will also force county and municipal governments to increase sales taxes and property taxes to maintain local services.

Then a couple of things happened. I ran across an article in the Perspective, the publication of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). It exclaimed, “Why the Long Faces?” and trumpeted the consensus of its “brain trust” that Oklahoma’s budget shortfall presented a “valuable opportunity” to “right-size (i.e. “cut”) government (and the services that it provides).

OCPA’s suggestions ranged from turning government services over to private corporations to downsizing and “phasing out the income tax” and replacing it with…nothing.

Kansas was held up as an example of good governance since it had recently made draconian cuts to its income tax rate. However, the 2015 edition of the Tax Foundation’s “Facts and Figures” showed that Oklahoma’s state and local tax burden was nearly 10% lower than Kansas’ and Kansans paid 24.4% more in state and local taxes, 41% more in gasoline taxes and 126% more in property taxes than Oklahomans.

Since the date of the OCPA article, Kansas, feeling the negative impact of its income tax cuts, increased its state sales tax to a rate that is 44.4% higher than Oklahoma’s.

Then, this week, the American Federation for Children (AFC) issued a press release claiming that 7 out of every 10 Oklahomans want to take public tax dollars and transfer them to private or religious schools.

Suddenly it became apparent that even in these dire financial straits, we are not all paddling in the same direction.

Amid the budget struggle, the OCPA and the AFC and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are laying the groundwork for a concerted effort to grab tax dollars for private school vouchers and “educational savings accounts” funded by tax dollars.

Oklahoma already has school vouchers for children with disabilities. Oklahoma already has direct and tax credit scholarship programs that take money from the general fund to subsidize private school educations. Now, through a series of leading and ambiguous questions, this poll attempts to justify and legitimize the redirection of public tax dollars from public schools to private and religious schools.

These groups were responsible for the new law allowing the state department of education to approve charter schools anywhere in the state, even when the local school board objects. Allowing vouchers will be just as easy. The choice is yours.

Comments or questions? David may be reached at 1-800-522-8502 or at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov