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Friday, July 29, 2005

10 ways to Make Oklahoma Better

OK – I’m “borrowing” broadly from Paul Burka’s “10 ways to fix Texas” article in the August issue of Texas Monthly http://www.texasmonthly.com But it got me to thinking – what are 10 ways to fix Oklahoma?
Here are some of my thoughts – by all means contribute. Who knows, we might get enough good ideas that we can send to Gov. Brad.

01 — RESTRUCTURE OUR TAX SYSTEM

Burka explains that tax experts say that the tax system, like a kitchen stool, requires three legs to stand without collapsing. The legs are sales taxes, property taxes, and compensation taxes. His proposal is to institute a personal income tax in Texas. In Oklahoma, several folks – i.e. Republicans – want to get rid of the state income tax.
I think the state’s whole tax system needs restructuring. We have income tax, yet the majority of large corporations in this state pay little taxes because of all the loopholes. Make the system fair to everyone. Our sales taxes are incredibly high, which defies logic since we have an income tax. Texas has one of the highest sales tax rates in the country, but we’re not far behind. Property taxes – while realistically Oklahomans fair better in this arena, it’s still a challenge. Truthfully, they can be a “deterrent to high-wage businesses that might want to move to the state or expand here” but there are several businesses in this state that owe thousands if not millions of dollars because they keep battling against paying their fair share (yes, I mean SBC).

02 — STOP THE TOLL ROAD MENACE

This is directly from Burka’s list. He states “Toll roads have their place: Oklahoma. Yuk, yuk.” Not funny Paul. Oklahoma’s roads are a shambles, and the turnpike’s are not that great. Let’s face it folks someone out there is getting rich off the toll roads in Oklahoma, but it will sure be hard to find out who that is since the Legislature covered their backsides by making this a “quasi-governmental” agency, meaning they don’t fall under any bright open records light. I have yet to figure out why Oklahomans aren’t fighting mad -- dare I say, like a chicken in a cockfight? I mean, lawmakers LIED. I’ve read what they had to say when they passed the first toll road measure. Clear as day. When the road was paid off, NO MORE TOLL. But then they amended that, and it still cost $7 to drive to Tulsa.
I might not mind that so much if the money from the toll roads was not being used to pay for cushy offices and jobs for the governor’s friends (i.e. Terry West’s daughter who is the PIO without a lick of experience) and used to fix the other roads and bridges in the state.

03 — MAKE THE INSURANCE COMMISSIONER/SECRETARY OF STATE ELECTED POSITIONS

These jobs are important enough to the state that voters need a say in who fills them.

OK – I’m “borrowing” broadly from Paul Burka’s “10 ways to fix Texas” article in the August issue of Texas Monthly. But it got me to thinking – what are 10 ways to fix Oklahoma. Here are some of my thoughts – by all means contribute. Who knows, we might get enough good ideas that we can send to Gov. Brad.
01 — Restructure our tax system
Burka explains that tax experts say that the tax system, like a kitchen stool, requires three legs to stand without collapsing. The legs are sales taxes, property taxes, and compensation taxes. His proposal is to institute a personal income tax in Texas. In Oklahoma, several folks – i.e. Republicans – want to get rid of the state income tax.
I think the state’s whole tax system needs restructuring. We have income tax, yet the majority of large corporations in this state pay little taxes because of all the loopholes. Make the system fair to everyone. Our sales taxes are incredibly high, which defies logic since we have an income tax. Texas has one of the highest sales tax rates in the country, but we’re not far behind. Property taxes – while realistically Oklahomans fair better in this arena, it’s still a challenge. Truthfully, they can be a “deterrent to high-wage businesses that might want to move to the state or expand here” but there are several businesses in this state that owe thousands if not millions of dollars because they keep battling against paying their fair share (yes, I mean SBC).
02 — STOP THE TOLL ROAD MENACE
This is directly from Burka’s list. He states “Toll roads have their place: Oklahoma. Yuk, yuk.” Not funny Paul. Oklahoma’s roads are a shambles, and the turnpike’s are not that great. Let’s face it folks someone out there is getting rich off the toll roads in Oklahoma, but it will sure be hard to find out who that is since the Legislature covered their backsides by making this a “quasi-governmental” agency, meaning they don’t fall under any bright open records light. I have yet to figure out why Oklahomans aren’t fighting mad -- dare I say, like a chicken in a cockfight? I mean, lawmakers LIED. I’ve read what they had to say when they passed the first toll road measure. Clear as day. When the road was paid off, NO MORE TOLL. But then they amended that, and it still cost $7 to drive to Tulsa.
I might not mind that so much if the money from the toll roads was not being used to pay for cushy offices and jobs for the governor’s friends (i.e. Terry West’s daughter who is the PIO without a lick of experience) and used to fix the other roads and bridges in the state.
03 — MAKE THE INSURANCE COMMISSIONER/SECRETARY OF STATE ELECTED POSITIONS

These jobs are important enough to the state that voters need a say in who fills them.

04 — BOOST TEACHERS’ SALARIES

Again, #4 on Burka’s list. And, we can’t disagree in Oklahoma. However, the state should get rid of the incompetent teachers and principals – and you know there are some. Consolidate – quit your belly aching and explain why a town the size of Shawnee needs five school districts when NYC has one. Merit – teachers want more pay, they should earn it. And directly from Burka’s list also: “The governor should direct the commissioner of education to devise a plan to reduce administrative expenses statewide by 50 percent, with the savings to be redirected to teacher pay.”
05 — FIX THE PROBATION SYSTEM (All Burka)

This ought to be a no-brainer. It costs $14,600 a year to sustain a prison inmate, compared to $730 to supervise an offender on probation. But the state’s probation system, everyone agrees, is a mess. Many probationers escape supervision altogether, because too few probation officers have to supervise too many cases for too long. Currently, the maximum probation period is ten years. That’s a long time for an offender not to make a misstep and violate the conditions of his probation. Getting in a fight, drinking booze, failing to show up at an appointment with his probation officer—any of these can cause probation to be revoked, requiring a return to prison. So frequently does this occur that the state’s prisons are almost out of bed space. In an attempt to prevent an overcrowding crisis that would require building more prisons—another expensive undertaking—the Legislature passed a probation reform bill this spring that reduced the maximum supervisory period to five years for a select group of third-degree felons and provided for the hiring of more probation officers. The idea was that more supervision would reduce crime and make prison beds available for violent criminals.
In Oklahoma, I would add get rid of mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offenses. More effort should be made for drug courts to draw first time offenders into rehab.

06 — INCREASE OUR WATER SUPPLIES

OK – that’s Burka’s item. If Oklahoman’s are smart, they’d stop sending water to Texas, or triple the charge. This is Oklahoma’s chance to get the upper hand.
In reality, I don’t know enough about Oklahoma’s water situation. Any comments.

07 — RESTORE CUTS FOR MEDICAID (all Burka – fits here)

Wielding the budget ax in 2003, the Legislature imposed a 5 percent cut on the amount it paid to doctors and hospitals who treated Medicaid patients. The amount necessary to restore the cuts was trivial by the standards of a $138.3 billion budget—a total of $67 million—and the consequence of not restoring the cuts is potentially serious, which is that the providers, as the health care jargon goes, may not accept new Medicaid patients. If that occurs, the patients will seek treatment in emergency rooms, where care is far more costly than it is in clinics. Paying the docs is the easiest thing to do on this entire list, and yet the Legislature managed not to do it.

8 —MAKE COLLEGE AFFORDABLE FOR ALL

Once we have upgraded our universities, the next issue is whether students will be able to afford them. Allowing the universities to raise tuition on their own seems to have been a mistake. Both OU and OSU have made considerable increases in the past two years. They keep saying they are making the tuition “comparable to other big XII schools.” Well, guess what? The other Big XII schools are consistently ranked as some of the best schools in the country, from engineering to journalism. Oklahoma isn’t. So if tuition is the same, why wouldn’t our students run to another state to get a better education for the same money? And, let’s not forget those “lower than the national average” salaries that the parents of most students receive in Oklahoma.

9 —PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT THE LEGISLATURE IS DOING
This should be a ‘no brainer’ for voters in Oklahoma. But it’s not. At most state Capitols, the last day of the Legislature is packed with voters who want to see how their elected officials act, how they vote and who’s pocket their hand is in. Not so, in Oklahoma. Hardly a soul is in the gallery on most days.
Electing them, sending them off to the Capitol and trusting that they’ll do a good job just doesn’t cut it. Oklahoma has long been abused by incompetent lawmakers that go to the state Capitol to line their own pockets (Kevin Easley, Carroll Fisher, Frank Keating, etc. etc.)
Not only expecting them, but making sure that they do their jobs makes Oklahoma a better place all around. Legislators like to throw around the word "accountability" and voters should throw it right back at 'em.

10 — BRING BACK THE POLITICAL CENTER

Burka’s list item, but I concur on: Fair redistricting: These are not words that one normally sees paired, but together they envision a reform that would go a long way toward making Texas (Oklahoma) politicians more accountable. Regardless of which party has been in power in Texas(Oklahoma), the trend in redistricting has been to draw safe seats for incumbents.
In the Legislature, going back to the political center, would mean a stop to the political posturing and chest beating. Expecting lawmakers to do the job they were elected to do, and quit acting like they represent only the Democratic voters or Republican voters who elected them would go a long way to actually improving the state.

1 comment:

Blue Cross of California said...

I dont think we should cut medicaid as it is a great importance to many for health coverage. Health care is a great aspect to many lives and shall be kept with great coverage.