Commentary: Visionary Programs Will Require Reality Spending
Pitts, William O., THE JOURNAL RECORD
Reality shows are the current rage among television viewers, but politically visionary programs are more popular with Gov. Brad Henry and the Oklahoma Legislature. At least that is what the people have been getting for the past several weeks.
They will get more of it from the governor when he addresses a joint session of the House of Representatives and state Senate today in the House Chamber.
There are many areas of expenditures not yet addressed, such as highways and public safety, that will require additional funds.
Parts of Henry's program released earlier include extensively augmented expenditures. He wants a $359 million increase for education. That alone may exceed the expected surplus.
His program provides K-12 public schools with a $221 million budget increase for major investment in classroom resources and funding for the third year of his four-year program to raise teacher pay to the regional average. Henry also wants an additional $50 million to supplement funds to pay benefit costs that were not provided in last year's pay raise program. It is unlikely this amount will satisfy many of the education forces involved with public schools.
Higher education would receive an increase of $130.7 million. Henry says it will help hold down tuition increases, but newly chosen Chancellor of the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education Glen Johnson claims higher education needs are greater than that amount.
It would fully fund Oklahoma Promise-OHLAP (Oklahoma's Higher Learning Assistance Program), designed to provide scholarships to qualifying Oklahoma students attending state colleges. Henry also wants to dedicate 1.25 percent of the state income tax receipts as a permanent funding source for that program.
Funding the program brought support from House and Senate leaders but differing ideas on how to provide the money. Republican leaders objected to dedicating a portion of income tax revenues for that purpose.
Some believe it would be the first step in trying to divert funds from this tax source to specific areas to prevent further reductions in the annual maximum individual income tax rate.
House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, quickly attacked it as an unwise effort to earmark income tax revenues. It could signal the first and perhaps most significant difference between Republicans and Democrats in this legislative session. …