- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Enid News & Eagle. June 3, 2017.

If Oklahomans needed another reason to dislike Texas, the rival state just hired away Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year.

Norman High School math teacher Shawn Sheehan and his spouse hoped the Oklahoma Legislature would pass a teacher pay raise, or find some kind of long-term solution to the funding problems in the state. Realizing that might be impossible, they began looking for other job options.

The Legislature approved, and the governor signed, a new state budget without an increase in base pay for teachers.

“The budget does not provide hope for educators nor solutions to schools’ most pressing challenges,” former Enid Public Schools Superintendent Shawn Hime, now the executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, told The Norman Transcript. “Oklahoma’s historic teacher shortage will continue to grow without a long-term vision and funding plan for education that includes competitive teacher pay.”

Sheehan, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature, did the math and decided to move south of the Red River.

To stop the brain drain, most Oklahomans believe teachers deserve a raise.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, even suggested a way to balance the budget with a teacher pay raise last month because base pay is frequently cited as a reason for educators’ exodus from Oklahoma.

Some critics wonder why teachers deserve extra pay at a time when state services are being cut to the bone. Up to this point, it’s been much easier to trim the fat than raise revenue.

With the advent of State Question 640 a quarter century ago, the Legislature needs 76 representatives to agree to be able to increase taxes.

When lawmakers reconvene in 2018, they’ll already be facing a huge budget hole. That will include $100 million in outstanding debt that will come due. Everything - including district or administrative consolidation - should be on the table to give Oklahoma teachers a raise.

We’re heading into an election year, meaning it will be even more difficult to accomplish teacher pay raises considering a $400 million budget deficit at the starting gate.

Now is the time to start planning. Don’t wait until the last week of the 2018 legislative session to decide it’s too late.

___

Tulsa World. June 4, 2017.

The recently adjourned Oklahoma Legislature was a bust. From education funding to tax equity, lawmakers were confronted with the state’s problems … and blinked.

But none of the Legislature’s failures is more frustrating than its refusal to deal with five reasonable, criminal justice reform measures.

The bills were the latest step in the state’s efforts to bend the rising arc of incarceration. Oklahoma locks up a greater portion of its population than any state but one and a greater portion of its women than anyone. If the trend line is not brought to sustainable levels, the state’s incarceration addiction will bankrupt it.

The concept of criminal justice has been tested with the voters, who overwhelmingly approved. State Questions 780 and 781 - which started the process of reconfiguring criminal sentencing and dedicating the savings to programs to deal with underlying drug abuse and mental health problems - passed with margins of 56 percent and 58 percent in November.

With the advice of a blue ribbon task force, the governor’s office put forward an aggressive effort to follow up the two state questions and save the state $2 billion in future costs.

But one man - state Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha - abetted by Speaker of the House Charles McCall, R-Akota, effectively blocked progress on five resulting bills that were nearing the finish line at the end of the legislative session.

- Senate Bill 649 limits sentencing augmentation on nonviolent convictions because of previous nonviolent convictions;

- Senate Bill 689 gives judges more discretion to divert people from prison to treatment and supervision programs;

- House Bill 221 adjusts penalties for small theft convictions;

- House Bill 2286 establishes specialized supervision for domestic violence and sex offenders and encourages inmates to complete treatment prior to parole;

- Senate Bill 786 distinguishes car burglaries from home burglaries for sentencing purposes.

Biggs, you might recall, was one of the lawmakers who, earlier in the session, sought to undo the progress of SQ 780 and SQ 781, under the argument that voters were too ignorant to know what they had voted for.

He also was the legislative author of November’s so-called Right to Farm Measure, which voters shot down overwhelmingly.

Biggs might be out of step with the people of Oklahoma, but he apparently has the trust of McCall, who allowed the House Criminal Justice chairman to run out the clock on the reform proposals.

Fallin publicly pleaded with McCall to reassign the bills to a more reasonable chairman’s committee, but when the session ended, nothing had happened. The bills could be sent to the governor’s desk as soon as the Legislature returns next year, but the state will continue to bleed money into an over-packed, over-expensive prison system in the meantime.

Despite the expressed will of the people, the backing of the governor and piles of evidence to the contrary, one obstinate man was allowed to kill criminal justice reform for the year, meaning the state will continue to waste money on prisoners who could and should be diverted into programs to turn them into taxpayers instead of tax consumers.

We hope the people of Chickasha are happy with the representation they’re getting in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. We aren’t.

___

The Oklahoman. June 5, 2017.

Citizen surveys conducted by City Hall consistently show the condition of city streets as residents’ biggest complaint. These surveys also reveal strong public support for police officers and firefighters.

City officials are hoping to address both these issues at the same time, and want to get the public’s views about their plans during a hearing June 13. We urge readers to take them up on the invitation.

On that morning, the city council will entertain public comments about using general obligation bonds to fund improvements to streets and other projects over a 10-year span. Also on the docket that day is a proposal for a 1-cent sales tax that would go partially toward streets and also toward hiring police officers and firefighters.

It’s estimated that the GO bonds, combined with the sales tax revenue, would generate $725 million for streets over a decade. The public comments will help shape the city council’s final decision one week later as to what bond projects - the lengthy list ranges from streets to libraries - will ultimately be placed before voters on Sept. 12.

Oklahoma City voters have supported using a 1-cent sales tax to fund capital improvements. Indeed, doing so has transformed the city.

Approval of the first Metropolitan Area Projects, or MAPS, tax in 1993 paid for such things as Bricktown Ballpark, a new library, a renovated Civic Center and what is now Chesapeake Energy Arena. That was followed in 2001 by MAPS for Kids, which upgraded public schools across the city (a subsequent 18-month tax dubbed “Big League City” paid for arena renovations and an NBA-caliber practice facility that helped bring the Thunder to town). The most recent MAPS iteration, MAPS 3, was approved in 2009 and is being used to build projects ranging from trails and senior wellness centers to downtown streetcars and a convention center.

Each of these followed the same model - projects would be completed debt-free, and the tax would include a sunset date.

City officials haven’t formally attached the “MAPS” moniker to their new proposal. Instead, they have proposed extending the 1-cent MAPS 3 tax that will expire Dec. 31, and for 27 months using three-quarters-of-a-cent for street resurfacing, sidewalks, streetscapes, bike lanes and trails.

City officials also wish to take the remaining one-fourth of that penny, which would generate an estimated $26 million per year, and make it a permanent revenue stream to be used primarily to bolster the ranks of firefighters and police officers. According to estimates, the former could see 42 additional members, the latter 129.

Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid says he would prefer to see schools included in the sales tax plan, and cited polling that shows residents like the idea of an extension that would help reduce class sizes and increase teacher pay. “They do not want just streets,” Shadid recently argued.

We shall see. We’ll also get a sense June 13 of how residents feel about creating a permanent funding stream for the men and women in blue. The council meets at 8:30 a.m. - mark your calendars.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide