Patrick B. McGuigan
Three leading Oklahoma Democratic senators took relish in the collapse of ambitious Republican tax reduction proposals, and began making the case for a greater surge in public education spending in the 2013 session. In comments to the Capitol press corps on Friday (May 25), the trio slammed the majority’s priorities, and criticized Governor Mary Fallin’s stewardship of the state’s top job.
Senator John Sparks of Norman, in an exchange with CapitolBeatOK, reflected, “Republicans make big promises but don’t deliver. They had 20 years to come up with a tax cut plan, but they couldn’t put one together that could pass. The governor in her state of the state address promised she’d work to increase the number of college graduates. Instead, we’ve underfunded higher education, forcing them to increase tuition.”
Senator Susan Paddack of Ada, who was her party’s nominee for superintendent of public instruction in 2010, told CapitolBeatOK in a telephone interview, “Obviously, we’re very glad to have a budget, and grateful we got it early in the week. I’m disappointed we spent so much time speaking about tax cuts, an issue on which there was no consensus. The stand-still budget we have is going to be very challenging.”
Paddack continued, “We are millions of dollars short in the education area. I’m afraid we’re creating a public school system where parents who have resources will be able to raise money to make up some gaps, but other schools where parents don’t have those resources will fall short.
“It is time for a serious discussion about how to fund education the way it needs to be. … New employers say they are looking for an educated work force, and we need to have adequate funds to make that possible.”
In prepared comments, Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage of Claremore declared, “The 2012 legislative session is one of the worst examples of missed chances I have ever seen.”
Burrage said, “Even though Republicans hold the Governor’s office and supermajorities in both the house and the senate, they failed to deliver on tax cuts they’ve been promising for 20 years. I would say the winners this session are the special interest groups who held on to their special tax breaks and loop holes, while our state’s children and education system are the ones who will be footing the bill.
“Considering that the Oklahoma Legislature cannot even begin to restore funding in education and other critical services, it would have been even more devastating if one of the misguided tax packages had been approved. They can’t even repair the state capital building that is literally falling apart.”
Sen. Burrage asserted, “Our public schools, Career Techs and Higher Education saw their budgets reduced by more than $300 million in the last three years. A standstill budget doesn’t hold any of those entities harmless. Schools that need additional teachers and resources for the classroom will not get the funding they need. Higher Education and Career Techs are facing increasing costs, and students and their families will increasingly be forced to make up the difference.
“A great deal of good could have been accomplished this session. “s it is, we’re left with a series of missed opportunities to move our state forward. The most positive thing I can think of to say is that it could have been even worse.”