Instead of helping the state meet a number of emergency funding needs, Republican members of the State Senate have opted for the "politics of gridlock" by blocking efforts to beef up heating assistance for the elderly and make nursing homes safer through increased inspections.
All 18 Senate Republicans voted against an emergency appropriation bill Monday that would have provided funds for ice storm damage repair, nursing home inspectors, health care programs for the disabled and elderly, and heating assistance for public schools, veterans centers and other entities. Their action effectively blocked the emergency clause that was needed to deliver the funding immediately.
"The Senate Republicans have chosen to put politics ahead of such emergency needs as nursing home inspectors and heating assistance. At a time when a lot of Oklahomans are having to choose between buying groceries or turning up the thermostat, I think that's a pretty irresponsible position to take. They're going to have a tough time explaining to their constituents why they voted against heating assistance, better nursing homes and adequate
health care for the disabled and elderly," said Sen. Stratton Taylor, President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
HB 1524 would allocate $66.6 million in emergency funding to a variety of needs. They include:
The failure to fund state bond payments will put a number of agencies in a financial bind, including the state schools for the blind and the deaf.
Without emergency assistance, the schools will be forced to devote operational funds to bond obligations - an approach that will cause both schools to run out of money within the month.
According to Sen. Taylor, the blame for those problems and others will rest squarely at the feet of the Senate Republican leadership.
"The Republican members had a chance to do the right thing, but they chose to do the political thing instead. They've opted for the Washington, DC style of gridlock politics rather than doing what is best for Oklahoma. Maybe that approach will win them some popularity points in their political circles, but it's going to come at the expense of a lot of Oklahomans," said Sen. Taylor.
While Republican legislators claim that they favor a smaller emergency funding bill or separate supplemental appropriations measures, capitol observers say the real reason behind their opposition is tax cuts. GOP members fear that allocating funds to heating assistance, nursing homes and other programs will decrease the likelihood of a major tax reduction for the state's richest citizens.
"The most disappointing aspect of this debate is the fact that they would rather pass tax cuts for the wealthy than fund heating assistance for senior citizens. That's certainly their prerogative, but I don't think it's going to be very popular with the majority of Oklahomans," said Sen. Taylor.