A forum on the near north side of Oklahoma City Thursday suggested that legislators and the public are not anywhere close to finished providing enough revenue for education and state services.
And a senator at the forum said the reason for passing bills to increase teacher pay is because legislators are “scared to death of your coming to the Capitol Monday.”
This comes at the end of a week where the House passed a set of bills that raise teacher pay and increased education funding in what the legacy press and TV news have called “historic.”
But, the measures don’t even restore education funding to where it was ten years ago before a series of cuts decimated funding for education and other state services.
Dunnington, Munson, Floyd
In a joint town hall meeting, Jason Dunnington, HD 88, Cyndi Munson, HD 85, and Kay Floyd, SD 46 all Democrats, sounded the alarm that statutory raises for teachers passed Monday have had about $50 mil in funding taken away by the end of the week.
Most of the questions attendees asked had to do with how the new measures passed would be paid for and what might happen next.
Floyd, Munson, and Dunnington said the issue is still one of not enough revenue to support essential government services.
“That means some other part of the government will have to be cut to pay for the statutory teacher pay raises,” Dunnington told the earnest crowd of mostly 20-30 year-olds.
“The Legislature doesn’t think the public will figure this out or do anything about it,” said Dunnington.
He explained that the revenue ideas to support the increase in teacher pay and the increases in education funding had a revenue package to mostly back it up.
Some house members like Del City’s Scott Inman said earlier in the week the package was still “upside down” as it went to the Senate even before the repeal of part of the revenue package.
Once there, Senators sent a bill back to the House that would repeal about $50 mil of the revenue package.
The vote was held open four hours until a Highway Patrolman was sent to pick up a legislator and bring him back to vote to repeal the funding according to Dunnington.
Dunnington had the most pointed words about the twists and turns of the week.
“We have to stop this. It’s not transparent. It’s not right.”
He pointed out that the legislation passed will mean that there must be cuts somewhere else in the government where ten years of cuts have left government services so crippled they were about to stop altogether.
One parent spoke up and agreed with him.
“It’s unconscionable,” she said.
“You have to hold your representative accountable at the doorstep,” said Rep. Cyndi Munson who knows plenty about doorstep conversations.
She won her HD 85 district seat by knocking doors through her district several times in each of the three campaigns she has held so far, winning the last two.
“I’ve been called a lot of things because I’m a Democrat,” said Munson. “But I’ve managed to keep talking to people to find common ground. It’s the only way to be effective.”
She encouraged attendees to bring up education and education funding to their representative any way they can, whether on the doorstep or by contacting them at the Capitol.
Munson encouraged them to “call, and say I’m watching.”
“You have to take your anger and frustration to the polls,” Munson said.
“Scared to death”
“They are scared to death of you coming to the Capitol,” said Sen. Kay Floyd.
She said that the set of bills quickly passed on Monday were intended to “stop you from coming up on Monday.”
She and Dunnington both said that if people come to the Capitol on Monday, that’s one thing. But if they are there on Tuesday and then Wednesday and other days, that is what many in the super-majority Republican leaders fear the most.
The group gathered seemed to be frustrated with the situation but were mostly in agreement with what the three legislators were saying, saying yes, clapping and nodding heads.
But, Robyn Warren’s question showed that there are still some who believe revenue is not the issue, but wasteful spending.
“It’s hard for me personally for me to say well yes, let’s raise taxes because I could see it as people who are poor money managers then giving more money makes them have more money to mismanage,” said Warren.
All three agreed that there needs to be constant review and auditing of how state agencies are doing.
“We absolutely have to have accountability,” said Floyd. “More local control would be very beneficial.”
She said the most effective government is local government, a popular concept especially in Oklahoma’s two largest cities, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, where city leaders and legislators have been frustrated at times with the Legislature’s attempts to stop local control.
“The most effective government you have is where you are sitting across the table from a councilman,” said Floyd.
Dunnington responded to the question by pointing to expensive and expansive legislation.
“When you ask the question how is my money being spent? The answer is they are being spent the way that laws have been written,” said Dunnington. “A big part of that is repealing a lot of unnecessary legislation that causes us to spend dollars that we could spend in a better way.”
And his comments that drew the loudest applause of the evening had to do with testing, a big frustration for parents at Wilson Elementary at NW 21st and Walker where the forum was held.
“One example for education is all the mandatory testing that we do,” said Dunnington to a large round of applause.
“Most of that is unnecessary. If we would just free the hands of educators to teach in the way they were taught to do, they would do a much better job of educating their children.”