- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Enid News & Eagle. Oct. 2, 2017.

Gridlock has brought the Oklahoma Legislature’s special session to a grinding halt.

House and Senate leaders recessed the session last week after there was little movement on how to fill an estimated $215 million hole in the budget.

House Speaker Charles McCall said he plans to continue negotiating with Gov. Mary Fallin, Senate and Democrat leaders.

The House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget had approved a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax increase to plug the budget hole. The Senate Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget also passed the cigarette hike, but since revenue bills must originate in the House, the full Senate can only vote once the House passes the plan.

That is the problem. Any tax increase must gain support of three-quarters of the members of each chamber, meaning 76 House members must vote for it. Apparently, the votes weren’t there.

We are at this point, because the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a previous cigarette fee passed by the Legislature during its regular session was unconstitutional because it was passed in the last five days of the session and didn’t receive the required three-fourth’s vote needed.

Republicans have a 72-28 advantage in the House, but need Democrat help to pay a revenue bill. Some GOP members oppose any tax increases, and many Democrats have said they won’t support a cigarette tax hike without an agreement to also increase either the tax on oil and gas production or income on those families earning more than $200,000 per year.

Without a deal to close the budget gap, the $215 million shortfall would fall on three agencies to which that revenue was earmarked: Department of Human Services, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state agency that oversees Medicaid.

Another state agency - Oklahoma Department of Health - recently announced plans to deal with an estimated $10 million shortfall.

Starting with the Oct. 30 pay period, some Health Department personnel will be furloughed one day without pay during each two-week cycle. No employee making $35,000 per year or less will be affected, but all other personnel will be subject to the furlough. In addition, a voluntary buyout is being prepared to reduce staffing levels statewide.

We again urge lawmakers to put the partisan politics aside and come together to do something to solve Oklahoma’s funding problems.

Our state is suffering and will continue to suffer until legislators come to a resolution.

___

The Oklahoman. Oct. 3, 2017.

In deciding to sign a five-year contract extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook ensured that the team will remain highly relevant in the National Basketball Association. That was far from certain 15 months ago.

When Kevin Durant left town on July 4, 2016, after professing his love for the city throughout his time here, it not only broke fans’ hearts but also drove home the fact that the NBA is first and foremost a business. If Durant could leave, then certainly Russ could, too. And if that happened, it wouldn’t be long before the Thunder was back in business of choosing lottery picks to try to rebuild.

Westbrook eased locals’ concerns a bit by signing a two-year extension in August 2016. “There is nowhere else I’d rather be than Oklahoma City,” he said at the time.

He then hoisted the franchise on his shoulders, carrying the Thunder to the playoffs with an individual season for the ages. He became the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1962 to average double figures in points, rebounds and assists; his 42 double-doubles were an NBA record. It culminated with him being voted the league’s Most Valuable Player.

At the MVP ceremony, he delivered beautiful remarks - thanking God, family, Thunder staff, Thunder fans - that provided another reminder of how lucky we were to have him here.

The Thunder management showed its clear commitment to winning with the summer signing of Paul George, and more recently with the trade for Carmelo Anthony. Yet Westbrook’s contract - if he didn’t agree to an extension by Oct. 16, he could become a free agent next year - remained a concern.

It’s a concern no longer. Westbrook saw to that with the extension announced late last month, which will keep him in Thunder colors through the 2022-23 season.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there is no place I would rather be than Oklahoma City,” he said.

The Oklahoman’s Erik Horne noted that securing Westbrook will help make the Thunder attractive to other star players. That can’t be understated, in the short term or the longer term. Simply put, NBA stars want to play with other NBA stars, and losing Russ would have crippled the Thunder’s chances to attract other big names.

His extension keeps the franchise on great footing, which trickles down to the many restaurants and businesses that cater to Thunder fans. Westbrook’s continued presence in Oklahoma City also means more reading rooms in elementary schools, more Thanksgiving meals served for the needy, and many other good works from his Why Not? Foundation.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti summed things up this way: “We are extremely fortunate to have an athlete, competitor and person such as Russell wear the Thunder uniform.”

Presti was speaking for the organization, but an entire state feels the same way.

___

Tulsa World. Oct. 3, 2017.

We congratulate U.S. Sen. James Lankford for proposing a fair and humane policy to deal with young, undocumented aliens brought innocently to the United States as children.

President Donald Trump announced last month that he was revoking the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or, as it is more commonly known, DACA.

President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012 to deal with the so-called Dreamers - young people who were brought to the U.S. before they were 16, have stayed out of trouble, have completed high school or its equivalent and have been honorably discharged from the armed forces or are enrolled in school.

When Trump announced the policy’s revocation, he said he was giving Congress six months to deal with the situation, and that he might reconsider his move if nothing happened.

It’s difficult to read the president’s intentions on this one, but we’ve always argued that an executive order is the wrong way to solve an immigration policy issue: The Dreamers should be dealt with humanely within a comprehensive congressional immigration reform measure.

Lankford’s Succeed Act fits all those standards.

The proposal would allow Dreamers to obtain conditional permanent status and eventually citizenship, but only if they follow all the rules. As with the Obama policy, it is limited to people who were brought to the U.S. as children, haven’t otherwise violated laws, and have met educational or military requirements. They have to pay all their taxes; and if they screw up after they get legal status, they’re still subject to deportation.

It’s a balanced, humane approach that puts an incentive on hard work, good behavior and achievement. It looks out for the nation’s safety without punishing some 800,000 youngsters who, in many cases, have no memory of any home but the U.S.

The proposal isn’t intended to stand on its own, but should be part of a larger immigration bill, Lankford said.

We like the Succeed Act, and we admire Lankford for sticking to his principles, despite the potential political risk. The easier path would be to demagogue on immigration issues, but Lankford chose to live by his Christian values, and search for solutions.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide