Have you ever noticed that you see very few news stories about the thousands of airplanes that make it safely to their destination on time every day?
However, let one plane have an issue with safety, seating or - in a worst case scenario - crash, and watch the news coverage pick up.
That is similar to the Oklahoma legislature in July. If revenue proposals aren’t being challenged in court, members aren’t facing criminal charges or leaders aren’t participating in retaliatory dysfunction, you don’t hear much about them.
Unfortunately, you hear a lot about Oklahoma legislators in July for those and many more reasons.
This time, Speaker of the House Charles McCall (R-Atoka) made news by demoting Leslie Osborn from the Appropriations and Budget Committee this week. McCall and those who issue statements for him were quick to point out that the move to oust Osborn had nothing at all to do with her “correcting” him about his claims that the state Department of Human Services’ recent cuts were politically motivated and unnecessary. After all, DHS was given more money in this year’s budget than in 2016. McCall even asked residents to turn their anger from the legislature to DHS - the agency that deserves the blame.
The extra money wasn’t even enough to cover the additional costs the department faces due to court-ordered increases in child protective services. Osborn began her career as a major proponent of the tax cuts that have left Oklahoma’s tax revenues short of what is needed to fully fund agencies and services.
One of the problems Oklahoma has is an improving relative per capita salary rate. That sounds good, but when you slash income taxes, those higher salaries don’t mean more money for state services. Complicating the issue is that higher salary levels lead to federal funding cuts. So McCall is right to say the state gave the department more money, but he knows that their expenses are up through no fault of their own and also other revenue sources are down.
Not many successful bankers would have trouble running those numbers and seeing that the problem wasn’t a department trying to curry political favor by cutting programs to the state’s neediest people.
McCall was perplexed and surprised.
“Frankly, I am perplexed as to why an agency that could afford these programs last year would claim it can no longer afford them this year after receiving a $53 million increase from taxpayers,” McCall said. “This is an agency that received $700 million in taxpayer dollars last session.”
Strangely enough, Osborn was far less surprised and perplexed.
"There's no doubt that DHS’s costs have grown far in excess of appropriations," she said. "Over the last few years, the Legislature has worked hard to increase the appropriation from $672 million to $700 million, but we can't discount the fact that, during this same period, DHS has faced cost increases and lost revenue totaling at least $175 million. That is obviously far more than the $28 million increase in appropriations."
McCall apparently decided to replace Osborn the day after she made that comment. He also said his obvious retaliation was obviously not retaliation.
Apparently, McCall didn’t want to fall behind on next February’s work on the state’s budget and felt like replacing Osborn now was the only sensible move. The fact that she contradicted him the day before was simply coincidence.
I’ve seen things like this before. I gave a woman at McDonald’s $5 yesterday and she gave me a hamburger, fries and a coke.
It’s a miracle! What are the chances that the timing of those two incidents would fall so close together? They were completely unrelated coincidental acts.
To borrow a line from McCall’s spokesperson, “It is ridiculous to suggest otherwise.”
The truly surprising and perplexing thing about McCall’s move is how he is trying to make it seem like he didn’t do what he has every right to do as Speaker of the House. You have the big office. Use it to retaliate against sensible Republicans who point out that your comments are ludicrous if you want to, but don’t ask the rest of us to pretend you didn’t do it.
This is the same leadership style that has caused the political pendulum to swing away from the far right in Kansas and Oklahoma. McCall has to have noticed that two Democrats won special elections recently.
I’m sure he thinks those losses are unrelated to how he and the rest of those in power operated the past few years.