Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Couple of Jokes -- One of Which is HB1019X

I did not have the heart or the will to watch the debate and vote on HB1019X today. Everyone with a brain knew the outcome, and the outcome will not be pretty for any of us who have friends or family in our state.

I DID watch on my computer (after my husband shut the door to my guest room/office...I watched the debate and the vote. And I wept bitterly.

I tried to take notes and characterize Representatives' arguments clearly. When my mouth would not be still, I added my own commentary in italics. 

FORREST Bennett, NOT to be confused with the no-taxes Bennett: (Against) He had to reclaim 6 seconds for his debate because his colleagues were being rowdy. Chair reminded the House of the need for decorum in the Chamber and reminded them to disagree with dignity and respect. If they can't do that, maybe they all need to go back to school and work on their people skills.

Rep. F. Bennett said he felt duped and deceived, taken for a ride by the leadership. They had said they wouldn't cut funding, and this bill cuts funding. He pointed out that after the failure of HB1054X, this bill mysteriously appeared...all ready to go. He urged a NO vote to hold the House accountable to voters..."You can do better if you have the will to do better."

Matt Meredith: (Against) He said the House is playing games with people's lives. He reminded the body that the Speaker promised the minority party that if THEY could deliver 75% yes votes on HB1054X, it would pass. The minority party delivered over 80%, but the bill failed when 12 Chairs, including the Chair of the Common Ed Committe, voted NO. He apologized to teachers, to the County Commissioners who came to advocate, to elderly and to children. He called the O&G employees who were bused to the Capitol for the debate last week, "paid protesters." I will add paid protesters who had a cushy ride from and back to work. He decried the weeks of time wasted in the Special Session and said the Senate was their only hope.

Collin Walke: (Against) He promised he wouldn't yell, and I can testify to the fact he did not raise his voice; he still brought his passion. He reminded the House that he told members the cigarette tax bill they passed in session was unconstitutional - BEFORE they voted. He reminded them he said it was a bad bill. They passed it any way. He evoked the Speaker, 'who dares not darken the floor of the House.' He did not yell.

Cyndi Munson: (Against) spoke eloquently about meeting students from a public school honor society. She spoke of her own alma mater, UCO, and told the body that 1500 A and B students have left the university before completing a degree. She warned that scholarships will be withdrawn because the funding is not there. She ended by saying Oklahoma deserves better.

Josh West: (For) He complained that others had called him a bully. Not sure about the context at all. He said his wife works in mental health...Then began decrying bureaucratic waste...In a swipe to the County Commissioners, I assume, he said their choice was people or asphalt. I wondered at his last sounded like a threat to any counties represented by members who vote NO. Surely not.

Jason Dunnington: (Against) He talked about one-time funding and deficits every year. He reminded the body they do the same thing every year. He challenged the House: next Session, beginning in February, members should not file any bills unless they include recurring revenue for the state. "We are the problem." He said they must be hyper-focused on recurring revenue, not social issues.

Scott Fetgatter: (For) Says we must choose between jobs, roads and bridges, and elderly and disabled people. People are losing services without this bill.

Johnny Tadlock: (Against) He told the body that it will be hard to go home and tell the people he voted for a bill to cut funds and services. Warned members they will return in February in a worse position than they're in now. He said he was going to be real about his vote.

Chuck Strohm: (For) Told members this bill IS the compromise. The only solution that protects state agencies. I may have cursed at the screen...just a bit. Rep Strohm only likes the bill in my mind because it cuts...cuts...and cuts. As a proud Grover Norquist no-tax-pledge signatory, he is not as interested in protecting agencies in my mind, as he is in never raising taxes.

Cory Williams: (Against) He called up the ghosts of OCPA and OICA as the big winners in this bill. He admitted he took heat on his vote last week. I might have brought my own blowtorch. He said a yes vote was doing 'more of what got us to 50th in the nation. How can we tell Amazon to invest in us if we don't invest in ourselves?' This is not a compromise in his mind.

John Bennett: (For) He began his debate with a story of a husband and wife who were charged with shooting the other to death. I got lost in the metaphor. He said this bill helps them make hard decisions...that it satisfies needs until next session. That it is the only alternative without taxing Oklahomans to death. Then he went on the familiar 'audit-audit-audit' rant. My eyes rolled into my head...I lost the thread at that point. He returned to his other favorite talking point: HB1017, the biggest tax increase in state history. He claimed 'total' state spending has increased. He called all opposition "scare tactics." Then, as I've come to expect, he went off the rails, accusing OU of encouraging abortion, of wasting money on monasteries. NOW he cares deeply about the vulnerable in our state...this from the man who called state agencies 'terrorists' the last time he debated. Nothing to see here, folks. Just move along.

Todd Thompsen: (Against) Rep Thompsen is a Republican who also brought up the fact that his own leadership voted against HB1054X...'our leaders were not jumping on.' He also reminded Democrats that their own leadership voted against the former bill. He sounded like a very reluctant NO vote, but a NO vote. 

Jon Echols: (For) The Floor Leader said he'd looked up the debate rules and could not call others liars, but he could say they lied. "I looked it up. I can say that." He said, "The truth is not in you. I cannot call you liars." He reminded the body that Department of Health would not be able to make payroll at the end of the month without the bill. This must have been in response to several others who asked the members to keep working on a better bill -- he warned that we are out of time. I'll admit, I got lost in this commentary. Never was sure who were the people-lying-who-were-not-liars. I think I missed a few seconds due to a glitchy connection.

David Perryman: (Against) He began by saying OCPA never saw a government program they didn't want to kill. He warned that the cuts in this bill would create long term problems for the state. He asked the body to stand up for people not corporations. He said that this moment was a natural result of years of neglect.

Kevin Wallace, Chair of Appropriations and Budget: (For) Chairman Wallace, who had just stood and answered an hour of questions about the bill with good humor and respect closed the debate. He reminded members that the failed cigarette tax, recently deemed unconstitutional by the Court, is the reason we are back in Special Session (Actually, I learned on the first day, it's called an Extraordinary Session). He said 12 agencies where held flat in this bill, with no cuts...Common Ed is one he mentioned. He didn't mention the fact there are MORE students for the same dollar allocation. That means the state invests less on each student. So, that is a cut. He warned the members that we are all racing toward a cliff, and said this bill will save us.

Someone in debate told one of my favorite jokes about digging into a pile of poo...the optimist does it with glee, because 'there's a pony in there someplace.'

They voted. It passed (no new revenue, so it only needed 51 votes). There was no pony.

Now, I'm going to go write thank-you emails to the NO votes. They seem to have more faith in our ability to truly help our fellow Oklahomans than the people who voted yes. My head hurts.

Eight Weeks. Eight. OK, Seven and a half . And THIS is the plan??

Update -- The sky has officially fallen. Governor Mary Fallin and I agree on something...she doesn't like this bill any more than I do. My question all Extraordinary Session has been:Why is the Speaker flying in the face of the Governor's wishes? I know she's a lame duck at this point...but to so completely ignore her intentions...It mystifies me.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Votes

I've 'donated' my blog tonight to Crystal Davis, a former student and fellow activist. We sat together Wednesday afternoon during the questions, debate, and vote for HB1054X, which needed 76 yes votes to become law, and save crucial social and medical services for our citizens. It fell short of the required 3/4 margin. Crystal is one of those treasures of my advocacy journey. Seeing her now, a fierce adult, making time to show up and stand witness. And she's a crackerjack analyst. She thinks in numbers and can use words like weapons. I appreciate her questions and her research. Why DID the vote fail?

Crystal, in her own words: "I'm a 4th Generation Oklahoman and a statistician who actively advocates for 7% GPT and the most vulnerable Oklahomans."

I can count on one hand, 1-2-3-4-5, the number of votes needed to save services for the most vulnerable in Oklahoma.  

I can count on one hand, 1-2-3-4-5, the number of votes needed to give teachers and state employees a pay raise.  

I can count on one hand, 1-2-3-4-5, the number of votes needed to pass the ‘Grand Bargain’.

‘The Grand Bargain’ is a bill which includes a tax increase on fuel, tobacco, and low point beer; along with an increase of the gross production tax incentive rate from 2% to 4%.  A previous version of this bill which included all of the above except the gross production tax failed to receive the required 76 votes in the State House . ‘The Grand Bargain’ has the required number of votes needed in the Senate and the Governor’s support, but fell short by 5 votes in the State House on Wednesday.  Many people are asking who is to blame for the failure of 1054X?

The Democrats?  

23 Democrats voted yes, 5 voted no. It would be easy to point a finger to those 5 Democrats and say, “If those 5 Democrats had voted yes, this would of passed.” The Democrats delivered 82.14% of their caucus.  Speaker McCall said in an earlier statement, ‘If the Democrats deliver 75% of their caucus, we’ll deliver 75% of our caucus.’ Last I checked 75% of 28 is 21.  The Democrats delivered 2 extra votes.  With 2 vacant seats in the State House, House District 51 and 76, the Democrats went above and beyond making up for those vacancies.

The Republicans?

There are currently 71 Republicans in the house.  75% of 71 representatives is 53.25.  The Republicans needed to bring 53 votes.  Combined with the 23 Democratic votes, the bill would of passed with the 76 votes needed. Only 48 Republicans supported the ‘Grand Bargain’, 67.6% of their members.

It’s worth taking a closer look at those 22 no votes from the Republicans. Of those 22, 7 voted yes on a previous version of the bill which did not include Gross Production Tax. Those 7 Republican Representatives are:

Bobby Cleveland
Jeff Coody
John Enns
Mark McBride
Lewis Moore
Terry O’Donnell
Michael Rogers

Often times in politics we ask ourselves, what does a politician have to gain by changing their vote? I looked at the campaign contributions, wondering how much Oil and Gas had donated to their campaigns.  According to these numbers provided by Oklahoma Watch, there is Oil and Gas money tied to each of these Republicans, but not enough to justify switching their votes. I started to wonder if we need to ask ourselves, what does a politician have to lose? With a tip and a little researching, I learned in the case of the 7 Republicans who voted no, they have a lot to lose.

Bobby Cleveland - Chair Public Safety
Jeff Coody - Chair Wildlife
John Enns - Chair of Human Services & Long Term Care
Mark McBride - Vice Chair Energy, Assistant Floor Leader
Lewis Moore - Assistant Majority Whip, Chair Insurance
Terry O’Donnell - Majority Whip
Michael Rogers - Assistant Majority Whip, Chair Common Education

That’s a lot of highly coveted positions of power among those 7 Republicans. Among the 22 no votes there are 13 committee chairs and 7 vice chairs.. Makes one wonder why those who hold positions of power voted no. So the question remains, who is to blame? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

One. Year.

One year ago today.

One. Year.

SQ779 went down to defeat. I was against it before I was supportive. I, like many of my progressive friends, hated the regressive nature of a state sales tax to fund teacher raises. Then I listened to friends and family who were happy to pay that penny to help fund teacher raises. An interesting analysis after the election found that communities around our borders voted FOR 779, and in some metro areas, neighborhoods around poorer schools did too. I supported this and was stunned (yes, I am an optimist) when it failed.

With a few exceptions (Mickey Dollens), our Teacher Caucus candidates, were defeated by wide margins. We had been so hopeful that educators and close relatives running for office, highlighting the issues in our schools, would excite and inspire voters to elect newcomers who would be committed to our public schools. We knocked doors, we called, we wrote postcards. And we watched the Caucus flame out.

But...we were told our legislators heard the cry...they were going to get right on that teacher raise. That 'better plan.' We did not hold our breath. We would have died if we held our breath.

There was no plan...and teachers left the state to support their families. Or they left the profession to support their families. Our public schools have a record number of emergency-certified teachers in classrooms. I know of two teachers in my community who have quit in the middle of the semester. Others, dependent on WIC, are looking for new jobs. There. Was. No. Plan.

HB1054X, the bill that the House will consider this afternoon is a pile of poo. And sometimes practical, pragmatic people vote for a pile of poo, knowing the battle has not ended...that we still have our values intact. We know the direction we want the state of OK to go. And we are willing to take smaller steps toward our goal.

If supporting this bill knowing it's deeply flawed means I must turn in my Progressive Card, so be it. My first vote was for Bobby Kennedy in the Indiana presidential primary just months before his assassination. And my second vote was for Eugene McCarthy for president. I'm secure in my values.

I'm ready to be pragmatic to save our most vulnerable...people who rely on waivers for their home health care. People who work in sheltered workshops, people who live in state-supported nursing homes. People who depend on state and county mental health services. Every one of those folks has a family, a circle of friends who will also be affected. Mothers will have to quit their jobs to provide full time care. Sisters who will have to open their homes. Sons and daughters who will see their parents going without needed services.

IF this passes with the required 3/4 vote (will rant about SQ640 later), I'm coming back, demanding more. I'm not going away. Neither are those of us who love someone affected by the cuts about to fall.

If this fails, I'll be back...but some Oklahomans might not have that luxury of time.

One. Year. In that year policy makers have seen our schools lose dedicated educators -- including a dear friend and a Grand's favorite teacher. This will not change. It will accelerate.

One. Year. And now, health services and mental health services are in the cross-hairs.

One. Year. Do we have another year to dither and demand perfection? I, for one, am not willing to gamble the life of ONE OKLAHOMAN.

Not another year like this one...

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Where are We Going, and Why are We in this Handbasket?

Ok, now I'm just pissed. Angry. Frustrated. Furious. Livid. Pissed.

In the past days I've heard stories of devastation:

  • Teachers forced to rely on WIC to feed their own children as they educate OURS.
  • Home-bound citizens being told their ADvantage program that provides home nurses, allowing them to live in their own homes with dignity told their program may end November 30.
  • State employees were given a glimmer of a hope for a raise, only to have that dashed.
  • Another tease of a $1000 raise for beleaguered teachers ($83.33 a month before taxes)
  • HB1093, a draconian requirement that Medicaid recipients go to great lengths to requalify for the health care for themselves and their families.
  • Friends who are health-care providers don't know if they'll have a job in December. 
  • Home bound clients may be forced into a nursing home.
  • Mental health clients stand to lose all out-patient services

Letter received by ADvantage clients
We are in the middle of an 'extraordinary' session called by the Governor to fix the budget after the centerpiece of the past session, the $215 MILLION 'smoking cessation' bill was deemed unconstitutional.

Last week I attended the rally at the Capitol to save mental health and public health...or I tried to. I never got into the building until the actual rally was moved outside. I saw desperate caregivers and desperate clients begging lawmakers to do something. I stood behind a client who told me she'd never been to Oklahoma City before. I stood in front of two nurses who drove in from Elk City.

On the 23rd, we were told there was a budget 'agreement'. Umm, the GOP did that to us before. They agreed with leadership...but not with the Democrats. This was the same. the GOP agreed, announced the 'deal', and left the press room without answering questions.

That cobbled-together Frankenstein's monster of a bill went down in the it should have. But these workers and clients had been told that was the only hope to save services. I watched that debate and watched Democratic legislators offer several opportunities to their colleagues for compromise. None was taken. The bill did not reach its 76-vote threshold.

Another bill that actually raised Gross Production Tax on new horizontal oil wells. Friday we all hoped it would sail through Appropriations and Budget Committee and reach the House floor...maybe Saturday. In a stunning raw display of power, the budget compromise failed in a tie. The GOP Chair chose not to vote for the bill. The GOP Speaker of the House who is a member of all Committees did not vote to break the tie. The leadership let the bill die in Committee. It became apparent that our budding hopes were to be destroyed.

If the first bill was Frankenstein's monster, what happened next was the Bride...Cuts, raids of the Rainy Day fund, shuffling of money from one hand to another is what we got. Legislators voted for this mess. I can only imagine their sadness.

Now, today, we read the report of the Interim Study by Representative Rick West, targeting 'Government Waste.' I did not attend...I did volunteer at my Grands'. Rep. West's bold initiative for saving the state from taxes? Do you really want to know??

He suggested the state could save $100,000 if the State Department of Education stopped using color ink in their printers! There are no words. Fill that $215 MILLION dollar hole in the budget from your unconstitutional law with printer cartridges. Yeah, that'll work just fine.

That was his suggestion. No new taxes. No new revenue. No recurring revenue stream. Just stop making color copies.

**A friend just reminded me that the bill to Oklahoma tax payers for this Extraordinary Session is approximately $30,000 per day. That pays mileage and per-diem for legislators who live outside the, three-and-a-half days of Extraordinary Session equals the OSDE's annual color cartridge bill. Priorities.**

Representative West wants to "root...out government inefficiency." He wants to "trim...the fat." He wants the corner on cliches, I guess. He and his colleague, Representative Tom Gann released a statement that chides OSDE for using color cartridges. I have no polite words.

Just tonight, Representative John Bennett, a disciple of Grover make-government-so-small-you-can-drown-it-in-a-bathtub Norquist, called state health and mental health agencies 'terrorists'. TERRORISTS! For doing their jobs and protecting their clients.

"The world is out of balance. The center cannot hold."

I've played nice. I've visited the Capitol. I've written letters and emails. I've made calls. I've worn buttons and held signs. We all have done what we can to make this legislature responsive.

OK Legislature taking last can of WHO HASH
Here we are entering the Christmas season with the biggest Grinches working at the Capitol. Working in service of Big Oil that has decided it won't contribute to our state. It will continue to frack, to extract natural resources out of the land, and it doesn't care if teachers leave the state to feed their children, if disabled patients have to move to nursing homes, if families lose their Medicaid for an excess of paperwork and regulations. The industry doesn't seem to care if dedicated state workers continue to make due with less, with no raises.

The industry doesn't care.

Some legislators don't seem to care.

OCPA, a conservative think tank has taken us #oklaed bloggers to task for our bad language and vitriol. Bad words and vitriol are bubbling to the surface right now like red-hot lava.

Today, all I can think is "Sh*t. Sh*t. Sh*t. What the actual H*ll? What the Frack??"

Oh, and Merry Christmas to Oklahoma...if we have a state in December.

What services have I forgotten? Please add them in comments. I know I'm not thinking clearly right now.