Governor Keating has launched yet another assault on education, this time with the endorsement of a massive tax cut initiative that would gut the state budget resources of public schools and other programs, according to a State Senate budget leader.
"When Governor Keating says he wants to cut taxes, what he's really saying is he wants to cut education because it's the biggest beneficiary of state revenue," said Senator Cal Hobson, vice-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"I know our Governor loves to attach his name to every tax cut under the sun, but at some point, responsibility has to kick in. At some point, Governor Keating has to be honest with the people of Oklahoma and admit that we can't continue to whittle away at our tax base and still expect to have a first rate education system."
In a meeting hosted by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs Tuesday, Governor Keating announced his support for an "economic development" program authored by an economist for the conservative special interest group. One of the focal points was a tax reduction program that advocated significant cuts to the state income tax, the sales tax, the estate tax and other levies.
"You can't cut or abolish every tax on the books without gutting funding for education, transportation, public safety, veterans programs and a variety of other important state services. It may come as a surprise to our Governor, but cutting those things isn't going to help economic development; it's going to kill it," said Senator Hobson.
The Senate budget leader noted that since Governor Keating took office, education's share of the state funding pie has declined each year, falling from 56 percent in 1995 to 50 percent in the year 1999. Although public school appropriations have increased, they haven't kept pace with the growth of the rest of state government under the Keating regime.
"Education hasn't fared very well during the Keating administration, no matter what kind of spin he tries to put on it. Government has grown under this Governor and so has the state debt, but the schools have gotten a smaller and smaller piece of the budget pie. That trend will only get worse under the latest proposal," said Senator Hobson.
Reputable statistics place Oklahoma in the bottom ten in education funding, the lawmaker noted. Reputable statistics also ranked Oklahoma as a low tax state, even before a series of tax reductions were pushed through in the past four years. Those facts indicate Oklahoma should probably concentrate more on education and less on tax cuts, according to Hobson.
"If we take an honest look at our state and drop all the rhetoric, it's pretty clear that we need to be protecting our tax base and directing additional resources to education. Continuing to push a tax cut agenda that rewards the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us is not in the best interest of the state," said Hobson.
In making his pitch for the latest tax reduction proposal, Governor Keating told OCPA members Tuesday that "we are strapping on our weapons and putting on the red arm bands" to stage a "revolution in legislative year 2000."
"I hope our Governor was just putting on a show for his friends and isn't seriously interested in pursuing a program that would crush education. We would all like to live in a world without taxes, but unfortunately, good schools and safe streets cost money. I think Governor Keating realizes that, even if he isn't willing to admit it publicly," said Senator Hobson.