Thursday, May 15, 2008

TRUST not Trustworthy Part 1

Oklahomans have been hit with a media campaign for roads and bridges funding by a group called TRUST. They have been less than accurate about the impact the proposals will have on education. I authored this piece for the Tulsa World.

All state agencies need more funds

There is a ''big bucks'' media campaign being waged in Oklahoma to try to convince legislators to better fund our roads and bridges.

The ads would have you believe that money from motor vehicle fees belongs to transportation and is being diverted to fund other state programs.

Actually, this could not be further from the truth.

Title 47 of the state statutes clearly states that the intent of the Legislature is that all motor vehicle fees and taxes shall be used for the general governmental functions of the state, counties, municipalities and schools and for the maintenance and upkeep of roads at all levels of Oklahoma government.

The 2007 collection from this fund was $608,271,976 and was allocated to the general revenue fund, to school districts, and to various city, county and state transportation and road funds.

Clearly, the money is going exactly where it was intended to go by the Legislature.

The media campaign financed by the TRUST transportation coalition has been successful.

Roads and bridges will be receiving more than originally promised for next year with additional increases the following year.

Sadly, that is not the case for other state agencies and programs. For those not able to finance a media campaign, the financial picture is bleak.

With $114 million less to spend next year and the current lower-than-predicted state revenue collections, it is hard to have optimism for the future of our state.

Because of those lower collections, education funding was short $42 million this year.

And while the Legislature says it is trying to make-up the shortfall, educators know how hollow those words can be.

The rhetoric of getting teachers to the regional average in pay, and providing increased operations funding for schools facing the increased costs of diesel fuel, heating and cooling costs, and other necessities are the recent examples of broken promises made to education this year. The future of services provided to Oklahomans won't get any better.

Tax cuts totaling $560 million dollars have been adopted by our Legislature with more to come.

Additional income tax cuts were temporarily suspended this year because of a ''trigger'' that was placed in the law in case of slower than expected state revenues.

These cuts will cripple our ability to provide good roads, safe prisons, healthy citizens and great public schools for every child in Oklahoma -- all services our citizens deserve.

And, as the budget gets tighter and tighter, the competition among deserving state agencies and programs will be more prevalent and those who have the money for a media campaign will win.

The result will be happy days for one and terrible days for all the others. Certainly, this is not a good way to run state government.

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