Hey babes! Below is the text of a presentation I recently gave at the Oklahoma Policy Institute. All of the data is material gathered BY the Institute itself, I just packaged it in a little writing! It’s a little more technical than my average blog post (I try to deliver you guys with EASY, quick reads that help you #keepcurrent) BUT it’s worth a read to understand a LITTLE of what’s going on here in OK and why I am committed to staying here and helping create some change. Happy reading!
We all know the impact a household budget can have on a home… a family. Money comes in, money goes out – and it all comes down to choices. Where is that money going to come from? What are you going to spend it on? It’s the difference between weekly groceries, putting dinner on the table and a gambling debt. It’s the difference between your child attending college or NOT attending college… and clearly the implications of that are far more reaching than one person could describe in one presentation.
Thus, one would imagine that the ENTIRE Oklahoma budget crisis’ impact, is vastly more complicated than I could explain to you in 5-7 minutes. It is food insecurity, it is families being broken apart, it is students not graduating and those who do, not being properly prepared, it is folks drowning in healthcare bills—it’s danger and ultimately, an unstable community.
So for the sake of brevity, I have selected 3 ways in which the CURRENT budget crisis is affecting everyday Oklahomans, today. There have already been affects of this budget deficit in the PAST and there will be more in the FUTURE, likely for generations to come. I’ve chosen to focus on what’s happening right now.
This list really won’t surprise you… You’ve heard about each of these items on the TV, radio, word on the street. But hopefully I can shine a little light on the roots of the impact, through data collected by the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
- A crumbling education systems.
I would like to start with our crumbling education system. You’ve heard about this issue on TV, the radio, and probably your neighbors or school children – but ill let the facts speak for themselves. As stated by the Oklahoma Policy Institute in their Budget Guide, QUOTE “America’s Economy has grown fastest when education attainment has grown quickly. States with higher education levels have higher income levels and more diverse economies.” And yet, Oklahoma QUOTE “spends less on education and pays our teachers less than almost every other state.” So it’s not hard to see that this will impact income levels and therefore our overall state economy.
Falling in overall education quality from QUOTE “17th in 2011 to 46th in 2016,” students have been affected by fewer quality teachers, lack of basic tools, and even 1 out of 5 school districts having to cut school down to 4 days a week. All of this has resulted in only 28% of 8th graders reading at an adequate level in 2015, much lower results on standardized testing like the ACT, and ultimately a student-body unprepared for higher education.
Ranking 46th in overall education, 48th in teacher pay, and 49th in expenditures per student, one cannot expect our students to have access to the tools they need, succeed in school, or help our economy to flourish… which leads me to:
- Oil & Gas: a need to diversify our economy.
An even MORE complex issue, is our one-legged-table of an economy. We all know that the oil & gas industry made Oklahoma what it is today. Without this industry we likely would not have art deco features in downtown Tulsa or the Thunder playing in Chesapeake Arena. But we as a state have come to use this industry as an economic crutch – a safety net to bail us out when our budget goes awry.
The oil and gas industry, however, has hit tough times the past year or two, for reasons completely unrelated to Oklahoma & our economy, leaving us without our trusty crutch to fall back on. In an effort to not only incentivize Oil/Gas companies to drill NEW wells but drill them HERE in Oklahoma, we passed tax cuts from 7% to 2% on new wells drilled in our state. This results in an almost $400 million loss to our state government’s budget at a time when we absolutely cannot afford it. The impact of this is that Oklahoma will not have enough money in its budget for essentials, due to the fact that we are completely reliant on oil and gas.
- Healthcare & Social Services:
Lastly, healthcare and social services are also facing dramatic cuts that leave the most vulnerable members in our society without assistance. Oklahoma is a state where QUOTE “drug abuse and addiction rates are high, as are child abuse, domestic violence, accidental death, and smoking.” With increasing obesity and malnutrition rates and ranking 45th in overall health in the U.S., Oklahoma has a problem: we are in increasing NEED for health resources but HAVE fewer and fewer resources to go around. We also rank 45th in how much we spend on mental health and we have the 3rd highest uninsured population in the U.S.
The horrible catch 22 of this issue, is that the longer our budget is in crisis, the more people will actually NEED these services that we can no longer provide and thus our state will continue to sink.
Again, much like a household budget, you have to have enough income to sustain your essential needs. What we are facing is a true crisis. I could list the statistics until I am blue in the face, but what I want you to take away from this data, is that the IMPACT of the Oklahoma State Budget crisis, is people’s basic needs are not being met. And the government is not upholding it’s responsibility to serve, protect, and educate it’s people. What’s perhaps most frustrating about the Budget Crisis is elected officials’ tendency to “pass the buck,” play the blame game, and act with very little sense of urgency. Meanwhile, every day that goes by, Oklahoma’s children are not being properly educated, Oil & Gas remains economic crutch, and sick and abused people continue to be neglected. I also need to emphasize that there are MANY forms of impact not discussed here, such as neglecting roads and bridges, destruction of our natural resources, lack of public transportation, the list could go on. But ultimately, the impact of the current budget crisis, is that Oklahoma’s government is failing to fulfill the needs of it’s people.
And if that’s “politics as usual,” I think we all can agree, Oklahoma needs to do something DIFFERENT.