Sen. Ron Sharp: Historic Times
The COVID-19 pandemic is sending shockwaves through our nation and state not only through health concerns but also economically. We’ve never been faced with a crisis of this proportion. We’re fighting an invisible enemy that health officials barely understand. It’s ultimate effects on our economy is unknown but the government must make difficult budgetary and health decisions now to protect our citizens.
Typically, the government has past events and statistics to help form a plan of attack but not in this situation. There is very little data available.
I recently emailed mayors, city managers, public school superintendents, college presidents, business owners and bank CEO’s seeking their advice on how we can get our state back up and running once the virus is under control. While our state legislators have expertise in their particular professions, it’s always good to get others’ perspectives and knowledge. These are constituents that need to be involved in the decisions that will affect their fields and industries.
Congress recently enacted the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which will provide economic and financial assistance to local communities, businesses and schools hit by the tremendous loss of revenue caused by the pandemic.
As a direct result of the health crisis, an estimated 10 million U.S. workers have already lost their jobs. Three weeks ago, before the crisis, the U.S. had its lowest unemployment rate of 3.5%. It’s now reached 15% and climbing.
Governor Stitt recently issued a directive to public school districts to continue paying the state’s nearly 41,000 support staffers for the remainder of the year. This was necessary since these are hourly employees, many of which have been required to continue working in their districts.
Just weeks before the pandemic went global, Russia and Saudi Arabia started an oil war and prices have since dropped by two-thirds. As a state dependent on oil and gas revenue, Oklahoma was already anticipating a $219 million revenue loss. The pandemic has increased that number, and the state is now facing a $416 million revenue failure in the current budget year.
With the statewide closure of non-essential businesses, the general sales tax will be the next loss to be reported by cities.
While property tax due dates have been delayed by county officials, businesses and constituents are already requesting that counties completely waive ad valorem payments. Ad valorem is retained by the counties to pay for their expenses. The local school districts receive their funds from county distribution with the state only providing supplemental funds based on the county's financial status.
In an unprecedented move, the federal CARES Act is providing unemployment benefits to independent contractors and other self-employed citizens. These individuals make up the largest group of workers in our state and nation, so I applaud Congress and President Trump for acknowledging their contribution and helping them. This is a great example of another group that must be brought to the table as we move forward in rebuilding our state’s economy.
The negative economic impact of COVID-19 combined with the energy collapse may require a complete restructuring of Oklahoma's tax policies in order to get our businesses, cities, counties, schools and other entities back on their feet. Businesses and schools will also be forced to address possible new health codes. A lot of major changes will be brought about by this historic pandemic.
Our nation and state are built on the foundation of the consent of the governed. What type of government do we want when we emerge from this pandemic?
There have always been tyrants ready to assume power during a crisis. It’s true a democratic republic is the most cumbersome form of government. However, when someone says they’ll clean up the ineffectiveness of our democratic republic, be weary. The only way for such power is through a dictatorship.
Our citizens are facing sobering issues that can’t be ignored unless they want those decisions made without their consent. If the people don’t take charge of decision making, tyrants will rule. History has proven that tyrants come in sheep clothing with promises that no human could ever fulfill.
With prayer to our Heavenly Father, all our problems can be resolved without surrendering our economic and individual liberties. That is my faith in Him. Please pray for our state and leaders as they continue making difficult decisions for our nation and state.
If I can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Ron.Sharp@oksenate.gov or call me at (405) 521-5539.