Pressure Cooking at the Capitol

Pressure Cooking at the Capitol - February 11, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

In 1917, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported steam-pressure cookers provided the safest way to eliminate botulism causing bacteria when canning meats vegetables. Northwestern Iron and Steel, a Eau Claire, Wisconsin company was in the right place at the right time.

Formed in 1905 to build cement mixers, the company started manufacturing huge retorts, or steam pressure cookers, for the canning industry and for hotel use. The 1917 announcement spurred a boom for Northwestern Iron and Steel as they produced and marketed a relatively small 18-quart model under the trade name National Pressure Cooker.

One of those cast aluminum pressure cookers found its way into the home of my great-grandmother’s Caddo County kitchen around 1918. With its thick, heavy lid, wingnuts, petcock, regulator and gauge, it has become a prized family heirloom that looks like it would be every bit at home in a science lab as in a post-World War I kitchen.

During the home canning process, steam pressure builds when water is heated. Likewise, political pressure rises when public needs are not addressed in a timely manner. Such has been the case over the past decade during a period of unprecedented oil and gas exploration, including the period when oil prices exceeded $100 per barrel.

Despite those record breaking “good times,” the wages of employees of DHS and Corrections and every other state agency, as well as teachers have been neglected. During that time, most state agencies have seen personnel cuts as great as 35% and have seen the integrity of their retirement plan undermined. Likewise, teachers all across Oklahoma have seen zero wage growth and are fleeing the state in droves for better pay.

How could this have happened? Why would a state refuse to fairly compensate its employees? With a red hot Oklahoma economy, why would state leaders refuse to see that state services, including education be funded?

The answer is simple. Instead of compensating teachers and other employees, state leaders, with the backing of corporate boardroom billionaires chose to cut Income Taxes on high wage earners and to cut the Gross Production Tax rate on oil and gas. With a “get it while you can” attitude, more than a billion dollars a year in tax cuts, incentives and credits benefitted them and other political campaign donors.

Now, wage earners across Oklahoma who are feeling the need state services and a quality education for their kids have “turned up the pressure” on lawmakers to restore the 7% Gross Production Tax and to pay teachers a fair wage.

In a panic, the same boardroom billionaires who for a decade had been enjoying the profits of a ridiculously low GPT and had orchestrated near poverty level wages for teachers and other state employees devised a plan to “relieve the pressure” for a 7% GPT. They reasoned that if they allowed the GPT to be set at only 4% and tossed teachers a bone, the matter would be “out of sight, out of mind” for  and voters would remain quiet for at least another decade or so. Their plan did not provide a raise for state employees because that “didn’t poll well.”

To prevent a restoration of the income tax on high wage earners, they decided to make up the difference by imposing taxes on working Oklahomans and double taxing renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydroelectric power to slow down the speed by which clean energy was growing in our state.

Will the plan work to “relieve the pressure” and allow them to continue pocketing millions in tax savings without fixing the problem? Will state employees and core services continue to be neglected? The answers are Yes, so long as Oklahoma voters allow it.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as State Representative.  If you have questions or comments about this issue or any other matter, please contact me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.