Senate Democratic Leader John Sparks, D-Norman, issued the following comments in response to the passage of the state’s fiscal year 2017 budget and the close of the legislative session.
“Once again, it was business as usual at the Capitol this session, and this business is going bankrupt. We did just enough with this year’s budget to get by for the rest of the year and, once again, kicked the can down the road for the next legislature to deal with. This budget, and the financially irresponsible policies behind it, does nothing to help our state and hard-working Oklahomans in the long run.”
“The Republicans who put this year’s budget deal together will point to ‘no cuts’ to common education; but this stagnant budget leaves our schools, our teachers, and our children exposed rather than protected. This year’s stagnant common education funding is nothing to be proud of. A stagnant budget amounts to a cut because of rising fixed costs, an ongoing teacher shortfall, and an increased number of students. Our schools and our children desperately needed money for teacher pay raises, more Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, reading remediation and early intervention strategies for struggling readers, strategies and programs to improve graduation rates, and more AP and college credit bearing coursework. Instead they get to continue to do more with less.”
“While the Republicans gave long speeches about the great job they are doing, the real world outside the doors of the Capitol tells everyone the ugly truth. We started this school year 1,000 teachers short. We will end the year with over 50 school districts unable to keep their doors open five days a week and another 50 districts considering going to four day school weeks this fall. If that is evidence of a great job, I’d hate to see what a bad job looks like for our schools.”
“In addition, the massive cuts to our public colleges, universities and Career Tech will almost certainly result in tuition hikes and cuts to faculty, financial aid, and academic and training programs. This comes while we are supposedly focused on ensuring that Oklahoma businesses have educated, highly trained workers. We are clearly not only failing the students who choose to attend our colleges and universities and Career Tech, we are failing the businesses that choose to invest in our state.”
“With stagnant or drastically reduced funding to our public schools and universities and the belief that education is a burden rather than an investment, we are truly facing the dark years of education in Oklahoma. My Republican colleagues shouldn’t be surprised by the condition of our education system. Republicans have created an environment at the Capitol where education is considered a liability, not an investment. This environment is not accidental. It is clearly intentional, with a willful disregard for the need to invest in public education.”
“We didn’t get into this budget situation overnight. The failure of this budget has been many years in the making and is absolutely, without a doubt self-inflicted. This crisis is caused by the appalling combination of short sighted, politically motivated tax cuts, a blind reliance on a narrow tax base rooted in a volatile, oil-based economy, a dependence on raiding one-time monies for ongoing expenses, and the majority’s willful ignorance of the needs of hard working Oklahomans. We even had the gall to spend the better part of a legislative day lecturing the Federal government about its finances and budgeting, then promptly turned around and borrowed $200 million to cover bad policy decisions made when oil was $150 a barrel.”
“Not only did we not prepare for the oil bust, as other oil and gas states did, we made the state more exposed by making all these other poor fiscal decisions; and when faced with the opportunity to bring $1 billion in Oklahoma taxpayer money home through Medicaid expansion to invest in Oklahoma, the Republicans clearly chose bad politics over good public policy.
“For the last six years, Republicans have fought against Medicaid expansion without offering a viable alternative. Six years without a plan is far too long. Blaming President Obama for a system which is working in other states is no substitute for leadership, and Oklahoma’s Republican leadership has completely failed to act in any capacity on this issue. It is time to get off our political high-horse and do what’s right for our citizens and our economy. It is time to create jobs and bring our tax dollars home to Oklahoma to invest in our state.
“Imagine Governor Raymond Gary when President Eisenhower signed in the Interstate Highway System; imagine if he said, ‘Oh no, we don't want you coming in here taking all our land and building these big roads, because we're going to have to take care of them.’ Imagine how we would respond to businesses in the years to come about how we don't have a transportation infrastructure.
“That's the position we're putting ourselves in by not taking advantage of the health care infrastructure available if we expanded Medicaid. Sadly, many Republicans in this building are more interested in honoring to their pledges to Grover Norquist, ALEC, and the OCPA than their commitments to the hard working Oklahomans who elected them.”
“I’m proud of the work the Democrats in the Senate did this year. Along with working to pass our own bills to help hard working Oklahomans and Oklahoma businesses, we did the hard work of the minority. We provided contrast, asked the hard questions, brought concerns to light, and worked to hold the Republicans accountable. I look forward to continuing to work with my fellow Democrats throughout the interim as we prepare for next session and continue our efforts to create opportunity and promise for hard-working Oklahomans and their families.”