- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tahlequah Daily Press. Sept. 22, 2017.

An Oklahoma legislator has come up with an idea to fill the state’s yawning budget gap that looks interesting on the surface, but probably won’t gain much traction.

Lawmakers slid through a cigarette tax last session in attempt to plug the $215 million hole, but the move was folly. Though legislative supporters tried to mask it as a “fee,” the state’s high court accurately recognized it as a tax, and shot down the 11th-hour move because of the timing and the way it was passed.

Democrats, including Tahlequah’s Matt Meredith, didn’t like the cigarette tax, for two reasons: First, it was another cop-out to avoid making the state’s energy industry accept its share of the burden. Some legislators want those companies to return to a 7 percent levy. And second, the cigarette tax would fall on the burden of the state’s poor, working and middle classes - something too many well-heeled legislators are always keen to do.



State Rep. Kevin Wallace would like to reinstate the $1.50-per-pack tax, with an added caveat: He’d like to allow tribal casinos to offer traditional casino games like roulette, and more importantly, dice games. That would mean the introduction of “real” craps, which aficionados say offers the best odds in favor of the player. In return, Wallace wants the tribes to rebate to the state the fees they charge their tribal members for car tags.

There’s no doubt the proposal perked up the ears of some seasoned gamblers around the state. Polls conducted by various media outlets - including one about four years ago by the Daily Press - suggest there are three reasons people don’t visit tribal casinos: They think it’s a waste of time and money or just don’t like to gamble; they have moral objections to gambling in general; or they don’t like the type of gambling tribes offer.

That last issue is significant, because the electronic gaming machines in tribal casinos operate more like bingo games than traditional slots and tables in Las Vegas.

They are progressive, competing against other machines in other casinos, and for that reason, “professional” gamblers say the odds aren’t as good. They also don’t like the “feel” of the games, and they don’t like flipping cards instead of rolling dice.

But tribes, which now pay the state fees to block commercial gaming, may not want to rock the boat. They may reason that they’re making plenty of money now; why risk the revenue stream with major change? There are also the legislators who have come forward to say they have a moral problem with gambling.

If legislators and others object to “dice” because their own religious doctrines eschew gambling, then they are forcing their tenets upon the rest of Oklahoma and should prudently back off. But if they object because they fear increased gambling addiction, they have a point.

No tribal casino official would try to claim those problems don’t exist, and most tribes - including the Cherokee Nation - have programs to address addiction.

There’s no doubt Wallace’s plan constitutes a double-edged sword, and some might even view it as sort of a bribe for the tribes.

Whether it’s feasible would depend almost entirely on whether tribal officials believe it will benefit their citizens.

Lawmakers should at least discuss this and any other plan before they shoot them down due to their own personal codes. They ought to give tribal officials time to think about it, and to weigh in. And, of course, they ought to take another hard look at the energy industry.

___

Tulsa World. Sept. 26, 2017.

Gov. Mary Fallin has given the Oklahoma Legislature fair warning.

As lawmakers prepared to come into special session to deal with a budget hole of more than $200 million for the fiscal year that started July 1, Fallin promised a veto for any proposals to cut appropriations to state agencies.

That only leaves lawmakers with one solution to the budget hole: more revenue.

Fallin also let the air out of the special session strategy of House Speaker Charles McCall. Fallin said she wouldn’t support any plan to send a cigarette tax hike to a vote of the people.

McCall has said a renewed effort at a cigarette tax is the only new revenue Republicans in the House are willing to consider. If there isn’t the three-fourths majority to pass a cigarette tax, he says the House will send the tax to a vote of the people and start cutting appropriations.

Fallin’s right. State appropriations have been cut too much already. Much too much. The results are four-day school weeks; underpaid teachers fleeing to other states; overcrowded, understaffed prisons, and reductions in fundamental health, mental health and human services. Oklahoma has a revenue problem, not a spending problem.

While there are potential long-term savings to be found in the state budget through consolidation of public schools and higher education facilities, those are long-term savings that aren’t going to be produced within the current budget cycle.

We support the cigarette tax and have for some time, as has Fallin. If McCall wants to fund the state budget with it, he needs to start piling up the needed three-fourths majority. Practically speaking, that means McCall will have to work with Democrats, who say they’ll consider the cigarette tax, if it’s part of a comprehensive strategy that includes an increase to the gross production tax.

Fallin has drawn some appropriate boundaries for McCall, and now it’s time for him to get to work within them.

___

The Oklahoman. Sept. 26, 2017.

Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty finds his department at the center of a controversy over the fatal shooting of a deaf man during an encounter with two officers. Citty has expressed sympathy to the victim’s family, and vows to work with those in the deaf community to try to improve his force’s efforts.

This response is what we have come to expect from the chief during his 14 years in the job. Citty doesn’t ignore those who raise concerns about his department. He has met numerous times with minority residents and leaders of those communities to listen to their complaints, particularly following high-profile shootings in other cities in recent years.

Those shootings have produced a narrative that police departments across the country are inherently racist, or that they simply operate with impunity. This mindset is evident in a statement issued by the ACLU of Oklahoma regarding the recent shooting of Magdiel Sanchez.

Sanchez, 35, was killed Sept. 19 in south Oklahoma City. Neighbors reportedly yelled at the officers that Sanchez was deaf. One officer fired his Taser, the other fired his weapon, when Sanchez approached them carrying what police described as a two-foot length of pipe.

The investigation is ongoing, and many details remain to be determined. Yet the ACLU of Oklahoma knows exactly what happened.

“We have allowed a dangerous culture of ‘us vs. them’ to fester among our law enforcement professionals,” the organization said. “This killing speaks directly to a warrior culture in which the very people police officers are sworn to protect come to be viewed as the enemy.”

In the eyes of such critics, this is true for all police officers, which is not just untrue, but patently unfair and only serves to stir further public distrust and disrespect for the men and women in blue.

That isn’t to say there are no bad officers in the Oklahoma City department, or in departments across the country. But they make up the small minority. The overwhelming majority do their jobs professionally and well, at a time when the job has never been more difficult.

Citty says academy recruits receive four hours of training on how to interact with the deaf and hard of hearing. Officers are trained to be aware of situations such as deaf motorists not acknowledging sirens. Those generally result in interpreters being called to explain the consequences.

Situations such as that involving Sanchez don’t always allow for those steps to be taken, Citty said. “When officers are approached with a weapon, there’s not much time to be patient,” he said.

In a letter to The Oklahoman, the treasurer of the Central Oklahoma chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, Ron Hendricks, urged those who are deaf or hard of hearing to show police a pocket card that indicates their handicap. “A police officer will respect that,” he wrote.

Hendricks also wrote, “We at Central Oklahoma Chapter Hearing Loss Association of America encourage everyone to comply with police orders. If you are stopped by a policeman, STOP what you are doing, stand still, and drop anything in your hand. The above applies if you can hear or not …”

This is reasonable and thoughtful commentary in the face of tragedy, a far cry from the second-guessing intended primarily to exploit and inflame.

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