In a prepared statement issued by Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake last week, it appears the state has painted itself into a corner – creating an economic irony that would be laughable if it were not so tragic.
Lake said in the press release, which warned of “severe, unprecedented cuts to DHS programs and services”: “Our fiscal circumstances are so serious that we must examine the potential for reductions in every administrative, service, benefits and program area in this agency. This news cannot be sugar-coated the results will be painful, barring what would be some kind of fiscal miracle.”
As an example, Lake wrote that DHS may be forced to reduce services that help keep aged people out of nursing homes – which is to say, the elderly will have to be placed in a nursing home because home health care may not be available.
This revelation comes on the heels of news that 97 percent of the nursing homes in the state may be forced to close if they are slammed with a 25 percent cut in state support.
If DHS services are reduced and the welfare department is forced to place homebound aged folks into nursing homes – which nursing homes is he talking about?
So if the DHS is going to send the elderly to nursing homes that are closed, will the helpless, aged and disabled be dumped in front of the locked doors?
Or is Lake’s warning merely a scare tactic, conceived to force action by the state legislature – a legislature that can’t even agree on a reasonable and rational budget and consequently missed the April deadline to have a budget in place.
Missing the deadline has put schools in limbo.
Without knowing how much money they will have to work with, they can’t create their own firm budget for the next school year.
Schools are being forced to slash and cut to the bone, but it’s like a surgeon working blindfolded. Who knows what the results will be?
It has been said some schools will be forced to close.
Just like the nursing homes?
OU President David Boren came up with a way to save the schools – a penny sales tax earmarked for education.
He wants to solve the financial crisis in education by a sales tax that will hurt the lower income folks more than the high income folks.
Sales taxes are considered regressive because it forces those on the lower end of the income sale to spend a higher percentage of their income on necessities such as food, clothing and medicine.
Apparently, politicians are averse to income taxes on the higher income but they are more than happy to tax the lower, less politically powerful end of the economic spectrum. They want to solve the economic crisis by picking the pockets of the less influential members of society.
One proposal is to help balance the budget and keep the nursing home doors open by adding $1.50 in tax to a pack of cigarettes.
Smoking is bad for you, no doubt about that.
But it is an addiction.
Folks aren’t going to give it up just because a pack of cigarettes costs more.
The higher income folks will simply absorb the costs.
The lower income folks will take their tobacco business to other states where the smokes are cheaper – which will result in a loss of tax revenue for Oklahoma.
Another part of the alleged solution to the budget fiasco is a bond – but borrowing money to get out of debt is never a good idea.
When Gov. Fallin turned down participating in Obamacare in 2012, thus costing the state millions of dollars that went to other states that did participate, she rather pompously stated that Oklahoma can take care of its own.
If by “own” she means the wealthy and the right wing tea party folks, that’s true.
But in the past four years Oklahoma has proven it can’t take care of its poor, its elderly, its sick, its children, nor its educational system – not to mention its decaying bridges and roads.
Our political leaders seemed surprised at the economic downturn, as if caught flat-footed when things were going so well.
It should have been no surprise. Oklahoma can count on economic downturns, just as it can count on tornadoes and droughts and floods.
Yet the state politicians lack the foresight to plan for the inevitable.
When Terry Young was mayor of Tulsa (1984-86) the city and state were in the midst of a severe drought.
He developed masterful plans to conserve and recycle water that were on the verge of being implemented thanks to the support of political leaders.
Then it rained, and water conservation went out the window.
Rather than implement the plans, knowing droughts are inevitable in this state, the plans were scrapped.
As long as water was coming through the faucets, folks were happy and when the voters are happy, the politicians are happy.
It’s time for politicians to quit playing politics and make decisions that are meaningful and long-lasting, not merely expedient to themselves, their parties and those in the high income bracket.
Otherwise, the state may actually be forced to drop off the elderly at nursing homes that have closed.