Grey Matter

Grey Matter 1

As of April, 2018 the Oklahoma legislature had allowed State funding for public education to plunge to 49th in the nation. What a terrible image to project about our State and what a travesty to the children of Oklahoma!

God bless our teachers for having the courage to finally have had enough, and to leave their classrooms for two weeks to protest at the State capitol, not only for fairer pay for themselves, but for better textbooks, more supplies and better equipment in the classrooms. This would not have been necessary, if the legislators had done their jobs. Did you know that the average pay increase for a teacher leaving Oklahoma to teach in another State was $19,000 and many of our children attending our public schools were using textbooks that were not fit to wrap dead fish in? Shameful!

As a result of our teacher walkout, the legislature begrudgingly passed several tax increases, mostly on those least able to afford it, that reportedly will give Oklahoma teachers average pay raises of $6,000. We are at the point that any additional funding for public education is good, but do you realize that the pay raise was only half of what was needed to raise Oklahoma teacher pay to the regional average? And the increased funding does nothing to improve learning conditions in our overcrowded classrooms. So, celebrating the slight gains made in public education funding is like celebrating that we lost a football game by 20 points, rather than by 30 points. We are still losing many of our best teachers in great numbers and we often replace them with lesser qualified teachers with “emergency” teaching certificates.

     I make these observations because I love Oklahoma and I know we can do much better! This is one of the most important reasons why I am running for the State legislature to represent House District 40. As Republican Governor candidate Kevin Stitt said while speaking in Enid recently, “If we want something different, we’ve got to elect different people.” I agree with Kevin Stitt. I am running against someone that has been in the legislature for the past 4 years. I am that “different person” that Kevin Stitt says we must elect if we want different results! Remember in November! 

 

 

Grey Matter 2

While I was a Special District Judge, I received at least two thick reports, commissioned by past Governors of Oklahoma, at great expense to the taxpayers of Oklahoma, which reflected comprehensive studies, analyses and recommendations regarding our criminal justice system. We have known for decades that there are more sensible, cost effective ways to deal with those that break the laws, other than incarcerating them. Our prisons are horribly over-crowded. They are at 122% of capacity. It is a wonder they have not been closed down! The latest data that I have been able to find shows that we are only able to properly take care of 67% of the current prison population. The cost per inmate is about $19,000 per year and that figure increases to about $23,000 per year, if an inmate is receiving needed mental health and/or addiction treatment.

     Only about 30% of the inmates in our prisons have committed crimes of violence. A great majority of our inmates are in prison because they are mentally ill, they are addicted to a substance or we are mad at them, not because they pose a danger to society. Many of our prisons are in poor condition and they need to be upgraded or replaced. The reports that I previously referred to recommended more cost effective ways to address these problems, without jeopardizing the safety of our communities. Many of the cost saving recommendations focused on alternatives to incarceration, such as treatment and supervision in cases where that would be appropriate. This makes sense, if it does not make our communities dangerous, because the cost of treatment annually for mental health and/or addiction issues is about $5,000 per inmate. Further, the cost of supervision can be borne by the inmate, if he or she is working.

     Oklahoma currently ranks #1 in the nation in overall incarceration rates. We rank #1 in the world in female incarceration rates. El Salvador, a third world nation, ranks #2 in female incarceration rates, but it is a distant second with a rate that is only 40% of Oklahoma’s. We cannot afford to continue to incarcerate Oklahoma citizens at such rates. It is not necessary for our safety, and it is not fair to Oklahoma taxpayers, especially when we are not even close to fully funding public education in Oklahoma.

     The select Governors’ Commissions on criminal justice reform long ago recommended treatment over incarceration for those with mental health and addiction problems, which would have saved Oklahoma taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually, but what did our legislature do with those reports? They threw them in the State Capitol trash dumpster. Why? They did not have the political courage to do the right thing. We should expect better. That wasted money would have probably gone a long way toward fully funding public education in Oklahoma. Remember in November!

 

 

Grey Matter 3

I have talked to educational professionals at the top levels about State Question 801, which Governor Mary Fallin, in cooperation with our State legislators, decided to place on the November election ballot. I have also read the measure and have formed opinions of my own, since the question was placed on the ballot after the protest by teachers in Oklahoma City this Spring for better funding of our public schools.

In my opinion, State Question 801 is a red herring and is an effort by those in power in Oklahoma City to shun their responsibility to fund our public schools. First, education officials inform me that this question does not really give them much more, if any, control or ability to fund operating expenses, such as textbooks and teacher pay, than they already have. They will not really have any more meaningful “local control” over the funding of public school needs. That is the sales pitch that those that have the responsibility for public school funding will give us, however.

Our elected representatives want to send teachers and others down to the local school boards across the State to protest, rather than bother them in Oklahoma City.

Further, if SQ 801 passes, legislators will undoubtedly tell the public and teachers that they are doing all that they can do. If you want more, go to your local school board and have them raise ad valorem taxes of local property owners to increase teacher pay, buy textbooks, etc. So you see what is being attempted with this measure, which is going to be all prettied up to fool the voting public. Don’t come to me to talk about this. Go talk to your local school board. You see? They can’t stand the heat, and they want out of the kitchen! In addition, school districts with wealthier tax bases will be able to pay teachers more than poorer districts and will be able to lure away the best teachers from poorer districts. This is something that other States are doing to Oklahoma now, luring many of our best teachers away with much better pay and benefits. I guess the rural communities will just have to settle for less qualified teachers that have “emergency certificates” to teach their children.

Nope. I don’t think this is a good thing for Oklahoma. The legislature needs to do their job and fully fund education. They need to have the intestinal fortitude to do the right thing for Oklahoma school children. I would recommend everyone vote NO on State Question 801 this November. Let’s Clean House!

 

Grey Matter 4

Another issue I have raised in my campaign is honesty in budgeting. Honesty starts with transparency. Transparency is sorely lacking in Oklahoma. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to try to find an answer to any question you might have on the revenue and expenditures of the Oklahoma State government. I’ve tried and I have had a very difficult time navigating through the information that is available to citizens to find many clear or understandable answers. There has been reference made to the fact that we have revenue of 22 billion dollars, but we only budget between 7-8 billion dollars annually. Recently, an investigation found hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions of dollars, of Department of Health money deposited in an account somewhere,  not being used to render services to the citizens of Oklahoma. Where does our tax money go?

While there is plenty of financial information here and there on the Oklahoma government site, I defy you to find much that gives you quick, clear and concise answers. I think it is that way by design because I think those in power know we would not like what we find.

The best I can determine, we have had budget deficits (our legislators like to use the term “shortfalls”) of over 2 1/2 billion dollars (that’s $2,500,000,000) over the last 3 budget years. These deficits cause us to borrow to cover State expenditures and those loans are added to our massive State debt. Did you know that each man, woman and child in Oklahoma owes approximately $2,500 on our State debt?

All this as been occurring while our legislature has been doing nothing but cutting public services, has let the quality of our public schools shamefully deteriorate, and has allowed our roads and bridges to fall apart. All the while, we have been reducing many of our major sources of revenue, such as gross production taxes and income taxes. We have failed to raise capital gains taxes to reasonable levels. We had ways to prevent these things from happening to our State, but we failed to act.

Maybe the lack of transparency is because our legislators understand that a considerable amount of incompetency would be revealed if things were open and clear. We have tremendous natural resources such as great farmland, oil and gas reserves, wind, lots of sunshine, a location in the center of the United States, very good businessmen, and let’s not forget our hard-working workforce. One candidate recently stated that we don’t lack sources of revenue, we don’t lack resources, and we don’t really lack leaders. What we lack is people that are bold enough to go to Oklahoma City and exercise leadership to solve our problems. Let’s Clean House on November 6. Oklahoma can do better!

 

GREY MATTER 5

Oklahoma has many challenges, when it comes to the health of our citizens. We now rank 2nd in the nation regarding the number of our citizens that do not have health insurance. “Not my problem”, you say? Yes it is, because we all pay for the poor health care and lack of health insurance of other Oklahoma citizens, one way or another. Furthermore, Oklahoma has a major drug abuse problem and mental health problem, which has been largely ignored. Perhaps this is why we lead the nation in both male and female incarceration rates. Up to 70% of the men and women in Oklahoma prisons are there primarily due to drug, alcohol or mental health issues. Many of our most youthful offenders are in prison because we have not funded sufficient counselors for our schools to detect and counsel with students that suffer from addiction and mental health issues. Perhaps, this is why Oklahoma has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.

Why, then would Oklahoma refuse medicaid expansion? Did you know that, if we accept medicaid expansion, it would mean the return of approximately one billion dollars a year of the federal tax dollars of Oklahomans to Oklahoma for the healthcare of Oklahomans for three years? If we refuse the return of these dollars, that money goes to other States for the healthcare of citizens of those States. Further, the acceptance of such aid would benefit the economy of Oklahoma by creating jobs and keeping our rural clinics and hospitals open. Right now, these clinics and hospitals are closing almost monthly and Doctors and nurses are leaving Oklahoma by the dozens. Sounds like what is happening regarding our teachers, when it comes to public schools, doesn’t it?

Governor Mary Fallin, with the urging of the State legislature, made the decision to refuse medicaid expansion, with the explanation that we should not do so because, beginning with the 4th year, Oklahoma would have to pay for one/tenth of the expansion, or about 100 million dollars to match 900 million from the federal government. They said that we could not afford that 100 million dollars. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, we could not afford not to participate. In the first place, how many of us would not invest $1oo dollars in return for a guaranteed return of $900? Further, studies have shown that that we would actually get back $164 in economic growth for our $100 dollar investment. We actually have a 64% net benefit from our investment of $100 million, and that is what it is, an investment in the people of Oklahoma. It is not an extra burden on the State budget, as opponents would argue.

We have a very unhealthy State. We are rank 3rd in overall obesity of our citizens. When you combine that fact, with horrible statistics regarding addiction and mental health rankings, it seems like the smart thing to do for the benefit of Oklahoma is to change course, and accept medicaid expansion dollars. After all, it is our money and we should use it to benefit the citizens of this State. Remember these things in November! It is time for change. Elect Norman Grey to represent us in State House District 40 on November 6. 

 

 

     

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