It must be difficult being Gov. Fallin

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. File photo.

By Rob Howard
Associate Editor

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin lauded economic development in the state in a Tuesday statement. “During the first six months of the fiscal year, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce reports that 28 companies made plans to invest more than $2.3 billion over a ramp-up period of three years. These investments will create more than 3,600 new jobs with a projected average annual wage of more than $64,000,” said Fallin.”

Apparently ignoring the state’s $1.1 Billion shortfall (or $1.2, or $1.3, depending on whose numbers you accept), the Governor renewed her warning against cutting economic development tools.

“As we work to further diversify the state’s economy, it is critical that we have economic development tools like Quality Jobs, the investment tax credit, the historic building tax credit, the aerospace industry engineer tax credit and Pooled Finance at our disposal,” Fallin said. “It would be extremely unwise for us to put a moratorium, however temporary it may be, on effective methods of bringing new investment and jobs, as well as the opportunity for increased income, to our state.”

Calls of caution from the Governor, in a similar statement earlier this month drew a rebuke from Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, a Republican, as is the Governor, according to a report in “Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman responded to the governor's statement Wednesday, saying it was Fallin who called for tax reform in her State of the State address Feb. 1.

“’It's disappointing that less than two weeks into the legislative session, however, there already is retreat from the idea of simply examining whether or not tax incentives are working,’ he said. ‘The alternative is deep cuts to core services like education, public safety and transportation, which all of us are trying to avoid.’”

In fact, the legislature is wrestling with how to solve the budget shortfall, caused in part by the collapse in oil prices and the consequential reduction in tax collections from the state’s energy industry.

Fallin said in her earlier statement that “mere consideration of a moratorium ‘resulted today in a major business canceling two projects for Oklahoma.’ On Wednesday, she slightly revised her statement to change ‘canceling’ to ‘eliminating Oklahoma from consideration’ for the projects.”

It’s almost like Gov. Fallin is fighting with herself. Former Democratic Speaker of the House Steve Lewis, writing in when the projected shortfall was “only” $900 Million, said, “This would require a cut in state budgets of $944,352,836, an average of 13.5% if applied to all agencies across the board. This would mean a $329,142,667 cut to common education, a $44,674,310 cut to mental health and a $127,399,027 cut to the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority to provide the match for federal Medicaid dollars for doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, home health care and other programs.”

Lewis continued with his analysis, saying the Governor intends to increase state revenues, and protect education from such severe cuts, although her proposal increases the education budget by $105 Million. That is far short of the $178 Million she says is needed to give teachers a long overdue $3000 a year pay raise.

Since the governor is talking economic development, and worrying about Oklahoma being taken out of consideration for businesses looking for a new home, she should probably take a look at a few things.

Oklahoma ranks near the bottom of all states in teacher pay, and money spent on education. And there were over two dozen bills attempting to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens in the state legislature this year.

Companies that are looking to expand have a long list of considerations when evaluating a state, but two that are near the top of the list are education, and a progressive human rights environment. They want their employees’ families to have a good education, and they want to attract and retain younger, more inclusive employees.

They also look at things like workers compensation law. The Governor bragged about her achievements in her statement yesterday, saying, “In 2013, the Oklahoma Legislature overhauled the state’s workers’ compensation system and addressed the need for lawsuit reform. At last count, businesses have saved more than $368 million in workers’ compensation costs since 2013….”

You can bet that $368 million in savings came right off the backs of injured workers and their families.

Steve Lewis probably puts it best in an article titled “Whose side are they on?” saying, “This session is going to be one where members are called on to look at whose side they are on. Are they on the side of the 3rd grader trying to learn to read in an overcrowded classroom taught by a substitute teacher with less than adequate experience or on the side of the ‘job creators’ who claim they need low taxes to make Oklahoma ‘business friendly.’ In other years maybe it was possible to claim both sides. Probably not this year.”

So it is appropriate for voters to ask Gov. Fallin, who seems to want it both ways when it comes to economic development, “Whose side are you on?”

The Gayly – February 23, 2016 @ 9:25 a.m.