The Oklahoma Legislature failed to pass a workable budget during its session that ended in May. Special session has come and gone without a $215 million hole in the budget being filled. The answer from our governor and legislators: rob from the state’s poor, sick and elderly while energy companies retain incentives and tax breaks. For the buckle of the Bible belt, this looks nothing like the teachings of Christ. It is, for lack of better terminology, a drunken gutter show — a swamp of willful ineptitude and greed devoid of Christian virtue.
Enid Okla. — Today would have been a good day to sleep in. Mind you, for me, that’s most days. I’m not what you might call a “morning person.”
Yet, I got out of bed, got dressed and came to work. I surrendered the warm embrace of my bed to come to the office for one simple reason: I’m being paid to do a job, and I was raised to believe that if you’re being paid to do a job, you get off your butt and do the work. Taking the pay without doing the work would be laziness at best, outright thievery at worst.
That’s a lesson our legislators and governor would have been well-served to learn at some point before taking the Oath of Office. Unfortunately, by all indications of late, it seems that lesson either never was learned or has been willfully ignored.
Pretty sober content for my first column — I know. I would have preferred to write a lighthearted column about something charming my daughter said, or maybe a warm, affirming piece about our great community. My daughters are charming, and our community is great, but it seemed negligent somehow to remain silent on the abject, willful ineptitude of our state government.
There’s lots of functions legislators and the governor perform. And, they’ve been more or less physically present during the train wreck of the last session. But, if you boil all of their tasks down to one essential function — the one key line item on their job description — it is to pass and fund a workable budget. They have utterly, and with great negligence, failed to perform this one basic function.
The budget was not funded during the bulk of the regular session, which ended in the last-minute passing of a cigarette tax that very predictably failed to pass judicial review. Special session costing $30,000 per day — slightly less than the annual pay for a starting teacher — has failed to yield results, and “behind the scenes” deal-brokering has given us only a flurry of eloquent press releases leveling blame in every direction.
All of this would be comical were it not for the consequences. This week the departments of human services, mental health and substance abuse services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority were told their budgets will be cut by $215 million. To summarize, our legislature and governor have failed to perform the most basic function of their jobs, and the pound of flesh needed to pay for their incompetence will be carved from our state’s most vulnerable citizens.
Maybe you’re OK with the indigent, the infirm and the elderly carrying the burden of our state’s shortcomings. Apparently we, collectively, are OK with it. We must be, because we keep hiring the same people to give us the same results. Rather than demand something be accomplished, we ride along with their self-congratulations and finger-pointing, picking whichever party tells us what we want to hear.
Who, then, is really to blame for the drunken gutter show we call a state government? At the end of the day, it must be us. Each of us must look in the mirror and decide what we will accept, and what is unacceptable from our state leaders. As long as we keep accepting disingenuous platitudes and flaccid excuses in the place of real leadership and public service, we are accepting that our state will continue on its current course. And that, quite frankly, is a course none of us can long afford.