BY World's Editorials Writers
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
1/01/13 at 2:48 AM
This is the time for New Year's resolutions, so here are some from the Tulsa World's editorial writers. Most of these are not new, nor should they surprise our regular readers:
There is no question that public education in Oklahoma has problems in the area of student achievement. But those problems won't be solved by further reducing funding, laying off more teachers or by sending unfunded mandates, such as new standardized testing requirements and remedial programs, from the Legislature and state Department of Education to the local districts.
- We resolve to continue defending public education against attempts by some lawmakers and others to strangle it with funding cuts or by diverting taxpayer money from public schools to private and church schools, through vouchers or other means.
Over the past four years state funding to public schools in Oklahoma declined by a whopping $220 million, while enrollment grew by 25,000 students. Oklahoma per-student spending has dropped by more than 20 percent since 2008. That's all thanks to the 2008 economic downturn and to repeated ill-advised cuts in the state's personal income tax rates by the Legislature. In 2012, lawmakers passed what they called a "flat" budget for schools, although with expenses continuing to increase it wasn't really flat. It is time to begin restoring school budgets.
There are other spending obligations as well, such as the Pinnacle Plan, an overhaul of the state's foster care system approved as part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Human Resources.
- We resolve to oppose further cuts in the state's personal income tax The state Board of Equalization recently certified a fiscal 2014 revenue estimate of about $7 billion, $214.6 million higher than for 2013. That means there will be some money available to begin restoring education, mental health, corrections and other core services to their pre-recession, inadequate levels. That can't be done all at once, but a start can be made this year.
The Pinnacle Plan will cost $30 million a year at first and $100 million a year later.
But already Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders are talking tax cut. We urge them to proceed with extreme caution with these spending needs in mind.
To all our readers, happy New Year.
- We resolve to continue advocating expanded health care for Oklahomans. The high rate of uninsured Oklahoma citizens - about 18 percent - is a state disgrace. Opting out of the federal Affordable Health Care Act and the Medicaid extension just because they are promoted by a Democratic president is silly and does the state's uninsured and medically indigent a disservice.
- We resolve to encourage the state's elected leadership to follow through with their commitment to the Justice Reinvestment Act Championed by former House Speaker Kris Steele, the act is a package of reforms in the pardon and parole process which will result in more supervised paroles and reduced prison populations. It will cost about $3.7 million a year for a few years but then it will begin to pay off with reduced corrections costs. Texas has had great success with the same program, including declines in the violent crime rate. We can do that, too, if we remain committed.
- We resolve to continue advocating for a federal solution to immigration problems. We believe that only the U.S. Congress, not state legislatures, can solve the problems. We will continue to oppose extreme and mean-spirited immigration laws introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature.
- We resolve to support a state bond issue to repair the state Capitol Building The building is literally falling apart, the plumbing system is a wreck, the electrical system is inadequate and it will take millions to fix it. It needs to be done, and done now. We also believe that a state bond issue ought to include a Tulsa project or two, perhaps low-water dams on the Arkansas River and the proposed pop culture museum.
- On the local level, we resolve to get behind an extended package of sales tax and bond revenues to complete the Fix Our Streets program. It's done wonders so far, but another round is necessary. Tulsa has other capital needs as well, but any plan put before voters should be mostly about streets.
- Finally, we resolve to keep pointing out the irresponsible or embarrassing things our elected officials sometimes do and to recognize them when they get something right.