Our reality horror show

The Oklahoma Legislature today continued its complete inability to govern, with a budget deal falling through in the closing hours of what many hoped would be the day we funded a budget that was due in May. If a budget is not funded by Wednesday, $215 million will be sucked out of state health care, mental health, and human services. Entire programs will be lost, and employees will lose their jobs. Still, the Legislature fiddles while the state burns. My column on the issue in today’s Enid News & Eagle is below.

Oklahoma_State_Capitol

I think there may be a silver lining to our state’s inability to pass a budget: it’s garnering Oklahoma a lot of attention. Everyone wants to see what happens next in the dysfunctional reality TV show we call a state government.

Sure, we’ve got the Thunder. But mostly up until now if Okies made the national news it was because of tornadoes, opioids, teen pregnancy, denying environmental change or our Third World-esque funding for education – all great talking points for our departments of tourism and commerce.

Now, we can add total legislative incompetence to our state booster talking points, and if a budget isn’t funded by Wednesday we can tack on to the list a draconian gutting of mental health, health care and social services. Go Thunder!

The national media is taking note, shining a spotlight on our inept state government as a warning sign for all who will take heed. If only we had had such a warning – maybe another state, somewhat like ours, that had tried the grand experiment of cutting revenue all the way to prosperity. Maybe a state immediately to our north. Yes, Kansas.

Sam Brownback and the Kansas legislature drove 2.9 million Jayhawks down this same path, and were a couple years ahead of us in crashing in flames. We had the advantage of watching them go off the cliff ahead of us. And, as anyone of sound mind would do, we jammed on the accelerator.

Now, we’re on pace to give Kansas some competition in the race to the bottom, and our legislators seem content to drive into the abyss.

Our state government has given Kansans a rock solid retort to critics: “At least we’re not Oklahoma.”

Could we have averted this? Not if you listen to our state leadership. The majority members have argued incessantly – with much more fervor than they’ve put into resolving this situation – that it takes two to tango.

They’re between a rock and a hard place. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it avert a total fiscal collapse. Pick your idiom.

The gist of it all is to blame Democrats for being intractable in demanding new revenue that isn’t sucked out of the pockets of Oklahoma’s middle class and working poor.

Have Democrats been stubborn in demanding an increase to the gross production tax on new drilling? Yes. Do they, as a caucus, bear some responsibility in stymieing what should be a mundane government function? Sure.

But, Republicans have been equally stubborn in refusing to compromise. The only Republicans who broke ranks Wednesday were those who thought disemboweling education, health care, human services and mental health just wasn’t taking the cuts far enough.

And, for the record, offering a guaranteed “no” vote on the production tax after passage of the budget proposal isn’t compromise – that’s holding an entire state hostage for the sake of the oil companies.

Sorry oil companies, you’re not the victims in this debacle.

Our state’s youth, the elderly, infirm and indigent: they’re the fodder for this reality horror show.

Republicans can be mad that Wednesday’s vote failed. But pointing fingers at the Democrats at this point is disingenuous at best. When you have a majority in both houses and the governor’s office, it’s fair to say you’ve had your hands on the wheel.

Letting go of the wheel just as the bus goes off the cliff to point fingers at the guy in the back seat – that’s hardly leadership.

But, leadership is what we will need over the next, say, 96 hours, if we’re going to keep our state from going over the edge.

Who will provide that leadership?

Who knows. The nation will be tuning in to see. If we’re lucky, we might just put the spotlight back where it belongs: on Kansas.


Neal is a writer and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @jamesnealwriter and online at jamesrneal.com. He can be reached at jneal@enidnews.com.

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