Governor Keating's desire to cut taxes even if it adversely impacts public education is out of step with both Republican and Democratic governors around the country and could damage Oklahoma's economic development efforts, according to a Senate leader.
Senator Cal Hobson pointed to a recent Washington Post article on this week's National Governor's Association meeting which detailed how the nation's state chief executives were resisting large tax cuts in an effort to devote more funds to education.
"Governors around the country, most of them Republican, are saying 'no' to deep tax cuts and 'yes' to major investments in education. They've identified the public schools and colleges, not tax cuts, as the keys to economic development. That's where they're putting the bulk of their resources. For some reason, Governor Keating is moving the opposite direction," said Senator Hobson, vice-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Governor Keating has proposed a $1.2 billion tax cut program which would cost public education $600 million every year once it is full implemented. The $1.2 billion represents a quarter of Oklahoma's annual state budget.
According to the Washington Post, other Republican governors are emphasizing far different priorities.
"A survey of state budget messages indicates many of the governors are increasing their rainy day funds against a possible economic downturn, while expanding investments, especially in education and early childhood programs. Tax cuts for the most part are modest and targeted," wrote Post columnist David Broder.
Broder profiled the agendas of several prominent Republican governors, all of whom made education the focus of their agenda. Governor Keating was not mentioned in the article.
"The country's leaders are united, swimming in one direction while our governor is out by himself, swimming in the other. They're all beefing up education to bolster economic development; Governor Keating is pushing a tax cut program that would send our schools back to the stone age. That's a bad signal to send to business, especially those industrial recruits who might be considering Oklahoma as a site location," said Senator Hobson.
The Lexington legislator said he fears Keating's strategy will cause Oklahoma to fall even farther behind in the education race. Oklahoma currently ranks 47th in the country in education spending.
"If we implement the Keating tax program and blow a hole in our education budget, we'll never catch up with all of the other states. We'll just continue to fall further and further behind, and our economy will suffer because of it," said Senator Hobson.
"To paraphrase an old cold war term, we're facing an education gap in Oklahoma and that gap just keeps getting larger and larger everyday. If we don't make a concerted effort to keep up with our competitors and invest more resources in education, we're going to lose the economic development race."
The Senate budget leader pointed to two possible reasons for Governor Keating's reluctance to follow the national emphasis on education: politics and personal philosophy.
"His tax cut program is certainly an election year effort to win votes, no question about it. The fact that he's bucking other Republican governors on education may go back to his personal philosophy on public schools," said Senator Hobson.
"He's never been a big supporter of education. He tried to cut it as one of his first official acts as Governor and then only grudgingly signed on to the Legislature's education agenda the past few years. Perhaps this election year has given him a unique opportunity. He can curry a few votes with a big tax giveaway at the same time he's implementing the slow strangulation of our public school system."