With teachers preparing to walk out of their classrooms, the state's most notorious "all hat, no cattle" budget cutter rolls into town to tell lawmakers not to take action to solve the problems they have spent a decade creating.
Former Senator Tom Coburn made his name by producing cute little books - at government expense by the way - about wasteful spending while never having any real effect on America's national deficit or debt. It is easy to find a few areas of waste and claim to have solved the world's problems. It is much more difficult to craft a budget that accomplishes real savings while maintaining the state's core services.
Coburn joined forces with a "no new taxes" group and held a rally at the state capital as the Senate was supposed to be convening to pass the teacher pay raise and funding mechanisms that passed the House Monday night in an historic vote.
Coburn is so intellectually dishonest that it borders on shameful. During his news conference, he said the state would have a surplus this year but lawmakers were still bent on raising taxes.
Either Coburn is misleading everyone or he is so blatantly ignorant that we should all say a prayer for the many patients he has billed extravagant amounts over the years in his medical practice. (One is forced to wonder if Coburn saw the tendency to overcharge in the medical industry and reduced the costs in his practices. I doubt it.)
You see, the budget that shows a small surplus includes no raise for teachers, support staff or other state employees. Those measures are the very ones that are being funded by the proposed tax increases. If the state makes it 11 years in a row without giving its teachers a raise, no tax increases are needed. But Coburn knows that. The fact that he pretends not to know is offensive.
Coburn is the latest circus act to pretend to believe that there is enough waste and abuse in government spending to be able to expand services without tax increases. He joins state lawmakers like Bobby Cleveland, Kevin Calvey and Tess Teague who all talk the talk but have failed to put their feet where their mouths are.
Coburn says he can easily find $4 or $5 million to cut from state agencies. That sounds like a lot to you and me. I wouldn't be working 20-hour days if I had $5 million. But to give the teachers a raise, he would have to find that amount 100-125 times. It's silly to believe there is that much waste in government and none of these champions of the taxpayers has ever found even ten percent of it to apply to education spending or other core services.
The group called Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite! (the exclamation mark is part of their name) said they believe the state legislature should focus on four areas; public safety, transportation and infrastructure, education and a safety net for the most vulnerable.
I'm certain that most lawmakers recognize those issues as the ones they address in the annual budget and the revenue raised for teacher and other state employee pay raises Monday night in the House fall comfortably into those categories as well.
No one likes taxes.
However, if you want to have a competitive educational system, quality roads, less crime and a safety net for those who need it, you are going to pay in a little. None of those things are free.
The Unite! group also called for no income tax and pushing more taxes to consumer taxes like sales taxes. That always sounds great to wealthy people.
They see income taxes as a penalty on high earners. That is silly.
Sales taxes are as regressive as any funds the state requires of its citizens. Low income workers spend all of their paychecks and thus sales taxes affect every dollar they make. There are no tax credits, deductions for charitable giving, or other tax shelters to protect poorer members of society.
Former Senator Coburn is a strange figure to me. He talks a lot about etherial cuts but he has never made substantial changes to any budget at any level of government in which he served.
But many people still love the pied piper tune he plays and his small cult following is still right on his heels. Hopefully, state senators realize his following is in fact small and the people in this state who think teachers deserve a raise every decade or so is much larger.
It's easy to find people to agree that higher taxes are bad. It is much more difficult to do the hard job of governing the state well.