Opinion: The bill that would have increased the tax on cigarettes by $1.50 per package in Oklahoma was a bad bill, regardless of whether you are a smoker and were opposed or you’re someone who wanted the revenue for health care and urged passage.
In the beginning the funds were earmarked for health care, but the final cigarette bill (second “C” section) stated funds collected would be spent at the discretion of the Legislature. An interesting statement was made during debate on the budget that the cigarette tax would have helped fund the Department of Human Services.
On a side note, opponents of the bill were surprised that House Speaker Jeff Hickman called the bill up for a vote when he knew it was going to fail. The answer came out this week when we found out that Speaker Hickman is interviewing for the job as director of TSET (Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust).
A $200 million transportation bill (HB 3231) passed the Legislature. Leadership says we are bonding $200 million to keep from cutting education, health care and public safety. What they really mean is, we are borrowing to keep from cutting corporate subsidies. As a matter of fact, it really upsets me that there has never been a conversation about cutting corporate subsidies. That tells you who owns our legislative leadership.
Ironically, two weeks ago the Legislature was considering a resolution to require the federal government to live within a balanced budget, yet now we are borrowing money on our State of Oklahoma credit (bond). Am I the only one who sees hypocrisy here?
At the Capitol the “powers that be” use fuzzy math when it suits them politically. An example is that every year when we have our new budget presented, it always shows the difference between the previous year’s budget and the new one. This year, though, when they came out with the 2017 budget, they showed the percentages after two revenue failure cuts. An example is: Higher Ed was cut 17% from last year’s original appropriation, but our budget only showed a 10.71% decrease. Public education was cut $58 million, yet our budget showed a 0% change.
We cut veterans’ program by $4 million. That in itself would have been reason enough for me to vote “no,” but my no vote was also because Higher Ed was cut $153 million, which is immoral; Public Ed was cut $58 million; Career Tech, $6.6 million; and libraries, $242,000. But on top of all that, the House and Senate budgets received a 183% increase, which was a $4 million increase after last year’s $2 million increase.
One of the budget cuts that was made to affect the working middle class, besides the removal of the Earned Income Tax Credit, was the freeze of the child care tax credit. It was such a small savings to our budget but adversely affects the working class who are trying to keep themselves off government assistance and prevent them from slipping into poverty.
Back in 1995 the bombing at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was the most violent act of domestic terrorism to date. In the face of danger, Oklahomans rushed to help the injured and anyone in need of help. This was labeled the “Oklahoma Standard.” This year the Legislature did not live up to this standard, and for that I am dismayed. I feel guilt by association.
I thank the people of House District 17 who sent me to the Capitol. It is a humbling experience; it has been my pleasure to serve each and every one of you.
Personal sacrifices are required for anyone who is elected to serve in any office, but knowing that you may have made some degree of difference makes it all worthwhile. God bless you and God bless Oklahoma.