Friday, March 27, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for March 27-April 2, 2009

Hello again, everyone! The session is half over and it appears some in the Legislature want to discuss anything except what should be our number one priority.

The budget is the top job every year for my colleagues and me; this year it is even more critical than at anytime this decade. With $900 million less to spend this year than in last year’s budget, the challenges are great.

This week, a critical budget deadline will pass having been unmet. The Legislature is required, by law, to complete the budget for Oklahoma’s public schools by April 1. The House of Representatives budget chair said this about the statutory deadline: “It’s a good goal.”

It is considerably more than a “goal,” and – in fairness – that deadline rarely has been met. If it is unrealistic – and I do not believe it is – then we should change it. If the Legislature will not change the deadline, then the Legislature should meet the goal – period.

School districts wait on state funding to determine their budgets, including how many teachers will be in classrooms come August. Teachers wait on the budget to see if they have jobs next year. The Legislature should not act like it is above the law, especially when doing so negatively impacts the lives of teachers, their families and their students.

That deadline – and shrinking budget numbers – should sharpen the focus on budget issues, but it has not. This week, House leadership blamed “uncertainty” over the federal stimulus package for the delay in getting Oklahoma’s budget work underway. At least they have finally said we should begin working on Oklahoma’s budget independent of the stimulus.

The stimulus also has created openings for opportunistic politicians. A state senator planning a run for governor said we should give back to Washington all the stimulus money coming to Oklahoma.

Whatever your position on the federal stimulus package, it is ludicrous to suggest we send our tax money back to the federal government. Here is the reality: if we return stimulus money, some other state will take it and spend it on critical needs for their citizens.

It would be terribly irresponsible to allow Oklahoma money to improve roads and bridges in some other state. It would be wrong to leave out in the cold Oklahomans who depend on Medicaid while money to help them goes to some other state.

If there ever was a time to “keep our eyes on the ball,” it is now. Our state is enduring a budget shortfall, a national recession, and families facing challenges unlike anytime in recent memory.

Despite those historic challenges, some are more focused on excuses and opportunistic statements than finding solutions to real problems. If the next eight weeks are anything like the last eight, then the accomplishments of the 2009 session of the Oklahoma Legislature will not even fill up a postcard.

Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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