Monday, September 27, 2010

Why I’m against SQ 744

I don’t usually get political on here.  But this State Question scares me.  Sponsored and promoted by the NEA, on paper it appears to be a good thing.  Unless that paper happens to be a spreadsheet.

SQ 744 will require that all public schools in Oklahoma be funded to the “regional average”.  Like everything else, we are usually at the low end of the spectrum.  This SQ would make Oklahoma pump more money into schools so “teachers don’t have to go to Texas for a raise” or the usual “it’s for the children.”  Okay, so Texas has more money per student invested.  They also have more population and industry.  Same with Arkansas – what does Arkansas have that we don’t?   Ahem, cough (Walmart) cough (Tyson) …. What we have here in Oklahoma is an oil and gas economy.  If oil/gas prices are high, the rainy day fund fills up.  If natural gas prices are low, so are state revenues.   We have sort of a reverse economy.  When things are bad on the coasts, it is good here.  Our surrounding states have different types of economies and it is comparing apples to oranges, so how can a “regional average” be a fair comparison?

So, how do you pay for this SQ?  You either raise taxes or take money away from other agencies.   So here’s another two things:  Oklahoma MUST have a balanced budget every year.  It’s in the State Constitution.  Must be balanced.   And  Oklahoma citizens have to vote on tax increases.  Do you think the public is going to vote a tax increase to fund this SQ?   NO.   So the only way to fund this proposal is to take budget money away from all other state agencies. 

Here are the top 10 appropriations in Oklahoma.  I don’t know why anyone (besides me) isn’t showing this graphic everywhere ….   Common Education (public K-12) receives 40% of the state budget.  Higher Ed gets 17%.  Add in Career Tech at 3%.   So that means SIXTY PERCENT (60%) of the entire State Budget goes to Education.  SIXTY PERCENT.  Now, mind you, the 40% Common Ed budget is all that is affected by SQ744, but just wanted to point out how much of the State budget goes where.

top10apprsSource of chart/photo:

Wonder why our roads are awful?  Transportation only gets 3% of the budget.  So you take a little money away from them and our roads and bridges continue to deteriorate to dangerous standards. 

What about over-crowding at the prisons?  Probably won’t be an issue -- can’t do that any more because Corrections can’t afford to guard the criminals so offenders will get early releases. 

Juvenile Affairs – underfunded.  Mental Health – underfunded.  Has anyone been reading about the waiting list for services with the Health Care Authority and Mental Health?  Literally, years and years behind in being able to provide services to people who need it.  Facilities are being closed already in the name of budget cuts, putting severely disabled and mentally handicapped people out of some long-term situations.

But, our teachers are under-paid! 

So are our DHS workers who have ever-increasing caseloads.  So are our prison guards, who are severely understaffed as it is.  Most jobs in Oklahoma don’t pay the “regional average” – even private sector jobs.  All my life, I could have ‘moved to Dallas’ to get a higher paying legal job.  This is nothing new.  Many folks do move to Texas for higher paying jobs.  And many of them move back home again because property taxes are through the roof and Texas wasn’t the promised land they had thought it would be.

We don’t want to pay “regional average” for housing prices, do we?  This “regional average” is not a reasonable argument.

SQ 744 is like forcing our state into “keeping up with the Joneses.”    Say your neighbor on one side buys a big boat.  And then the neighbor on the other side buys an even bigger boat.  But your income level hasn’t increased this year, and in fact it went down quite a bit, and you don’t have the money to buy a similar or even smaller boat.  Common sense tells you that buying a boat is a bad idea for you, personally.  But you have to buy a boat bigger than the one neighbor and not as big as the other neighbor.  Why?   Because this law says you must keep to the “regional average” no matter what your income level.  It doesn’t mean you don’t WANT the boat, you DO want the boat.  But is it responsible to get the boat at this particular time?

Now, here’s another thing.  The legislature funds Education and gives the agency the money, right?  What happens to it at that point is up to the Department of Education and the local school boards.  Why do some school districts pay their teachers more?  Because that is how they choose to divvy up their funding.   There is a lot of autonomy in Education funding and folks really should be monitoring their local school boards.

And yes, the lottery money that goes to schools is supposedly a good thing.  Except that lottery money is a declining source of revenue, because when people don’t win, they quit playing so much. 

Both major State universities are saying they will have to increase tuition (again) if SQ744 passes.  The current Governor (a Democrat, lame-duck) is against it.  And he’s heading the effort to campaign against it.  Both candidates for Governor are against it.  Because they know what it will do to all the other aspects of State government. 

Then there is the accountability factor.  No reforms, no accountability.  Just another thing wrong with this teacher union sponsored initiative petition.

Everyone … EVERYONE … would  love to see more money get into the schools and buy newer and better equipment and get more teachers in the classrooms and give school staff a raise also.  Those folks always get left out of the pay raise structures.  Of course, we would all love to see that happen.  But I do hope that Oklahomans can see the bigger picture and realize that this State Question is not the way to go about it.

So, how DO we go about it?  Keep trying to recruit businesses and build a larger tax base.  Inspire entrepreneurial spirit and job creation.  Promote our wonderful way of life to attract retirees and new homeowners.  Keep people in the work force and paying taxes.

Disclaimer:   Opinions expressed herein are my own only.  I’m not representing anyone or anything other than my own viewpoints.  And I’ll probably only have the nerve to leave this opinion up for a short time!~   



carmar76 said...

I'm not an Oklahoman, but I agree with your assessment whole-heartedly! Ppl tend to look for the "quick fix" and forget the big picture. I fall into that trap in my own life, I know. But when you're dealing w/ A LOT of ppl's lives...well, you HAVE to keep the big picture in mind. Oye.

Buzz Kill said...

I will tell you that here in Jersey, the school system is breaking the state and property owner's backs. Schools are funded through outragous property tax. I pay about $9,500/year and about $5,500 goes to the schools. Jersey has over 600 school districts ladened with admin people. Superintentents, assistants and directors make $150K minimum and the NJEA union is very entrenched in the NJ government. All of their teachers and admins get a pension and full healthcare for life. This situation has put this pension plan in the red to the tune of $47Billion (also the state has been forced to miss pension contributions over the last few years to balance the budget).

We also have school districts that are state supported. Camden is one. They have a $350M budget for a $50M tax base. The state coughs up the other $300M and there are several of these districts in the state.

It's a horrible situation and I think NJ may go bankrupt. We now have a republican governor who is trying to correct decades of democrat damage but he can only do so much.

Because of this, I think you will see a lot of incumbents lose during mid-term elections. From what I understand from your situation, you want to vote no.

connell said...

I think that pretty much covers it! How did this get on the ballot in the first place?

Kathy said...

You, my friend, are brilliant. This essay should be front page news and read on every radio broadcast to show the real effect of SQ744. Bravo!