Threatens Economic Development Efforts
Even though Governor Keating's attitude toward higher education has evolved from its original budget cut mentality, he still isn't providing colleges and universities with the resources they need to help attract high-tech industries and high-paying jobs, according to a Senate budget leader.
"Governor Keating has come a long way on higher education, but unfortunately for Oklahoma, he hasn't come far enough," said Senator Cal Hobson, vice-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
During his first year in office, Governor Keating proposed a $15 million cut to higher education, but ultimately dropped the idea after considerable public opposition. Since then, he has included increases in his executive budget, but those proposals have never matched the amounts suggested by Senate leaders.
For example, this year the Senate program calls for an additional $75 million investment in higher education. Governor Keating has proposed $43 million. The State Regents requested an additional $83 million.
"The experts say our colleges and universities are the best economic development tools we have, yet Governor Keating is devoting more of the state's growth revenue toward unproven tax giveaways than he is to higher education. I'm afraid that kind of approach is going to cost us jobs and opportunities for our young people in the long run," said Senator Hobson.
Vocational-technical education is getting even less attention in the Keating budget. Under the Governor's program, it would receive an additional $5.2 million, almost half of which would replace money vetoed by Keating last year ($2.2 million). The Senate program would provide an additional $12 million to vo-tech.
"Governor Keating sent the wrong signal when he vetoed vo-tech money last year, and his latest budget isn't much better. Oklahoma's vo-tech system is considered one of the best in the country, but it won't hold that distinction for long if it doesn't receive a priority share of our growth revenue," said Senator Hobson.
The Lexington legislator noted that the Keating vo-tech budget failed to fund Dropout Recovery programs, Welfare to Work and other programs designed to put more people at work in the Oklahoma economy. In addition, his proposed funding increase for work safety program is half that of the Senate proposal.
"Work safety programs are a crucial element in the effort to reduce workers compensation costs. Strong vo-tech programs can help us get a handle on those costs, but only if we fund them adequately," said Senator Hobson.
"I commend Governor Keating for putting what I'm sure he believes is his best foot forward on higher education and vo-tech, but I just think we can do better. With additional growth revenue available, higher ed and vo-tech should be at the top of the priority list, not near the bottom."