Politics makes strange bedfellows.
A 19th century journalist named Charles Dudley Warner borrowed a phrase from William Shakespeare and made it his own.
He was talking about how political deal making often unites politicians with vastly variant views. Multiple extra attempts to finally and constitutionally end the 2017 legislative session in Oklahoma has taken that to all new strange levels in 2018. The latest extension of the legislative action from last year appears to be more than the bounds of normalcy could bear.
We saw teachers and administrators standing with Speaker of the House Charles McCall to support a plan that would have given teachers a $5,000 raise. The irony of Speaker McCall being the champion of the educators after every vote he has cast and the bills he has run to exacerbate the state’s revenue failures is pretty palpable.
The Democrats from the left and the group of about 20 far right wing Republicans who don’t support any tax increase for any reason united to defeat the bill and suddenly the Democrats were cast as the enemy of education funding.
The Democrats claimed that they stood against the Step Up proposal because it was generated by a group of business owners who were only attempting to offer only a small part of the revenue that should be required of them. Step Up just didn’t step far enough up to gain support of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.
What could the Democrats do to remind the OEA and teachers and administrators across the state that they had tried to support them long before the Step Up plan was conceived?
The obvious answer is to work with the current State Auditor and GOP gubernatorial candidate to make you own version of a compromise plan to raise enough revenue to fund the teacher raise in a manner that seemed fair to them. (Sarcasm alert – there is no world in which the obvious answer was that Democrats in the House working with a GOP candidate for Governor to reach a deal makes much sense in 2018.)
It remains to be seen if that proposal will even receive a fair hearing. The Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the Governor’s office and State Auditor Gary Jones hasn’t been part of the good old boys club so his legislative leverage isn’t any greater than the Democrats.
One of the most interesting things about this proposal is that it also has unlikely groups lined up against it. For the first time that I can remember, the American Cancer Society is coming out against an increase in cigarette taxes.
Welcome to the 2017 special session in 2018. Up is down. Black is white. Dogs and Cats Living together. Mass hysteria.
Once again, the proposal is drawing fire for not going far enough.
Like the Democrats who wanted more than a four percent gross production tax on oil and gas producers, the cancer society wants to double the proposed $0.75 per pack tax on cigarettes. They say smaller tax increases don’t have an impact on the number of people smoking and the ACS wants to see the tax result in fewer smokers.
That might be a welcome side effect for legislators, but it is pretty apparent that the measure was written with revenue growth in mind rather than smoking cessation.
Unlike the Step Up plan that was fast-tracked to the House floor, there is no guarantee the new compromise ever even receives a hearing.
In fact, the House voted Monday to approve almost a two percent cut for the rest of the fiscal year to almost every agency in the state.
That bill was conceived behind closed doors and passed the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget without a single question or word of debate. It passed the entire House Monday on a vote of 67-24 - once again, without a word spoken for or against it.
Thanks to the fact that SQ640 forces a 75 percent majority to raise revenue but only 51 votes to cut expenses, Oklahoma state government agencies – including the Department of Education – are getting cut again, and no one from either side even asked a question.
It would take a really good argument or a bad opponent for me to vote for an incumbent this fall. None of them have risen to the occasion. Most fiddle while Rome burns. Honestly, it is time to stop voting for the same people and expecting them to achieve different results.