With a storied career in the Oklahoma legislature, Mr. Benson has every right and possibly an obligation to express his opinions on the sorry state of affairs in which the citizens of Oklahoma find themselves.
While I believe Mr. Benson and I would differ on many solutions, his fundamental point that current legislative leaders are dramatically failing the people of our state is undeniable. His observation that the needs of southwest Oklahoma are unique and special is also well made. Citizens in our corner of Oklahoma have every right to the same treatment and opportunities as those who populate urban areas. Those who suffer most from legislative neglect are the elderly, disabled and children who through no fault of their own critically need and should expect the same services as their counterparts in the urban areas. Oklahoma has always served as a haven for hard-working, self-reliant individuals. As much as anyone, our citizens accept risks and make extraordinary efforts to build a better life for themselves and their families. We are also a compassionate people willing to help the downtrodden.
The biggest legislative failure, however, is not even addressed in the letter, and that is what is happening in our public schools. Just when our children need more education, we plan to offer less: four-day school weeks; a shortened school year; adjunct teachers with emergency certificates; and larger class sizes. With education cuts and low pay for our school personnel, the state is hemorrhaging teaches who choose to move to border states where the pay scale is much higher. Oklahoma ranks 48th in teacher pay behind Mississippi and South Dakota and has not ranked higher than 45th in recent years — an embarrassment and a scandal. The question should not be “can we rank at or near the top, but when.”
As the legislature contemplates new funding methods to adequately support our schools, our small town hospitals and nursing homes, law enforcement and the Department of Human Services, new or increased taxes always become part of the conversation. Perhaps it is time to look at the many state boards, agencies, and commissions that collectively incur massive bureaucratic costs; including six-figure director salaries, large staffs, legal costs, office expenses and more. We could devote millions to priorities like education, health care, public safety and more if we reduced these common sense defying bureaucracies without raising taxes.
Examples of these agencies include the multiple public safety agencies, several of which could be easily combined. Could the Department of Agriculture possibly incorporate the Peanut Commission under its umbrella? No one denies that these agencies make valuable contributions, but does the state really need the bureaucracies attached to each. And when you consider that duplicate functions like these replicated across all areas of government, you get some appreciation of the savings available if our current legislative leaders get serious about conservative, efficient government. Protecting a bureaucracy should not be more important than our children’s education nor giving aide to those who need help from social services and the protection of law enforcement.