Senate Democratic Leader, Sean Burrage, Claremore:
“This budget bill is just another example of our legislature lacking the political courage to tell Oklahomans exactly how and where we are spending their money.
“Last week, we passed a politically motivated tax cut while, at the same time, hiking fees on hard working Oklahomans. Today, we handed over $30 million to the State Buildings Revolving Fund with no plans for how that money will be spent. In addition, we shortsightedly took bond issues off the table because it’s not the ‘fiscally conservative’ thing to do, despite it being the perfect economic climate to take on that kind of debt.
“Furthermore, we are sinking $7 million into renovating offices in the same Capitol building we’re desperately trying to find the funds to repair and restore. We talk a good game about the Capitol being the ‘people’s house’ and us just being residents in their home. I guarantee you no homeowner would spend money renovating the bathroom in their house if a complete overhaul was truly in the works.”
Assistant Democratic Leader, John Sparks, Norman:
“Today, we allocated an additional $13 million to the OSU Medical School in Tulsa. This is in addition to the other state money regularly provided to the program through the Regents for Higher Education. This is at least the third time such a special expenditure has been requested and granted. Each time, it has been approved with the understanding that it would be the last bailout needed. And each time, they are approved because the program purports to provide doctors for rural Oklahoma.
“However, these physicians graduate with $200,000 to $225,000 in debt. This is two to three times the amount of debt accrued by students at medical schools in the surrounding states. With that much debt, these physicians are practically forced to find work in high-revenue practices so they can repay their loans.
“If our goal is to get doctors into rural Oklahoma, we could take the $13 million from this line item and agree to pay off the loans of medical school graduates if they provided healthcare in rural Oklahoma. For example, with $13 million we could go to Baylor Medical School in Dallas and recruit 140 physicians who could be deployed, debt-free, to rural and underserved areas of Oklahoma. The numbers are comparable for many of the medical schools in Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.
“These doctors would have no student loan debt pushing them away from lower-paying practices in underserved areas. The current scenario is not resulting in a good return on the investment of taxpayer dollars.”
Democratic Caucus Chair, Tom Ivester, Sayre:
“Between the $1.5 million for the new Workers’ Compensation Commission and the $5 million to OMES, we’re spending an awful lot of money on reforms that were meant to find cost savings and budget efficiencies. You don’t save money by spending money. And at this rate, we’re going to spend a whole lot of taxpayer dollars trying to save money.”
Democratic Caucus Vice Chair, Susan Paddack, Ada:
“Hard-working Oklahomans want good schools for their children, not $80 in tax breaks. And Oklahoma businesses want and need an educated workforce. We approved a budget that underfunds education to the tune of $220 million less than 2008. In the meantime, enrollment has climbed by more than 30,000 students and the legislature has asked our schools to implement rigorous, often unfunded, reforms. I believe that we are short-circuiting our future by not educating our children to the best of our ability.”