House Democrats press majority Republicans on budget, proposed park closings
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Published: 06-Apr-2011

State Rep. Scott Inman of Del City today (Wednesday, April 6) told Capitol reporters that Democrats in the state House believe, “It’s time to get serious about the state budget. It’s time to put something on the table.”

 Participating in the press conference with the House minority leader were state Rep. Mike Brown of Tahlequah, Appropriations and Budget advisor to the caucus, and around a dozen other legislators. Those supporting Inman and Brown included Jerry McPeak of Warner (caucus chairman), Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa, Will Fourkiller of Stilwell, and Oklahoma City’s Mike Shelton and Anastasia Pittman. 

 Inman said members of his caucus continue to, as he put it,  “support Gov. Mary Fallin in her stated purpose to keep agency budget cuts in the 3 to 5 percent range.  However, we completely oppose her methods. We are opposed to the new Republican majority’s borrow and spend philosophy.”

 Rep. Inman claimed, “Her solution is to take the state taxpayers’ credit card and borrow $200 million, and to raise taxes on the middle class.  Our solution is that instead of raising taxes or borrowing money and spending it, take some of the $5 billion in tax credits and exemptions off the books.”

 Rep. Inman declared, “She said this was a priority in her state of the state address, but not one single tax credit has been put on the table. She hasn’t identified any of those she wants to cut. It would take just a small percentage of the money in those tax credits to meet the state’s current budget needs.”

 Inman recalled that Governor Fallin had said in her State of the State address she was “thrilled” the state could afford $120 million in tax cuts resulting from the “trigger” in place when income tax revenue grows. However, Inman asserted, “80 percent of our people get little or nothing from those tax cuts. She wants those tax cuts but won’t look at the $5 billion in tax credits or exemptions and tell us which of those she is willing to cut.”

 Rep. Brown contended, “The Republicans prefer to put debt on our children and grandchildren.” In recent years, he said, “There has been 15 to 20% already in budget cuts to state agencies and that’s enough. How can we expect any more out of our agencies? We’ve already lost thousands of teaching and support positions in our schools. Another 3% cut to schools or to health and public safety is just too much.” 

 Brown also asserted projected savings of $142 million from changes in Information Technology (IT) systems are “not real.” He noted a proposed $100 million bond issue would mean $11 million in cumulative interest payments, and $22 million a year for debt service over a five-year term. 

 He said, “The hardest part of this is to put any more burden on the individual taxpayers.” Brown believes the chief executive’s car tag proposal to bring a one-time upward spike in revenue “is a shell game, actually a one-time increase to taxpayers.” As for proposals for agency consolidation, Brown said those include “vague references to savings, but so far, no real indications of savings.”

 A recurring criticism in discussions with reporters was, as Brown reiterated,  “There are no exemptions/credits on the table for repeal now.”

 Later, in a prepared statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Inman pressed this point, saying, “In Governor Fallin’s State of the State address she addressed the subject of tax credits, and was quoted as saying ‘only tax credits that create jobs will stay’.

 “Nowhere in her Executive Budget or in the conversations that have followed has the $5.2 billion in tax credits and exemptions lost each year been seriously discussed, beyond creating a task force to study the issue later. The state’s needs are now, not down the road. Our public services have been cut to the bone already, and now we’re told to brace for cuts into the bone. This is unacceptable. “

 Minority Leader Inman observed, “It’s her budget and her own inability to get her budget and program passed that threatens to make the budget cuts more like 7 to 10 percent.”

 Brown contended, “only 1 percent of the taxpayers have really enjoyed any tax cuts. We’re asking the governor to back up and reevaluate her own budget. “

 Responding to discussion of a provider fee on hospitals to trigger federal matching funds, Rep. Inman said, “We do support that and believe that if it is not done, as we’ve advocated for years, we’re leaving a federal match on the table. “

 Today’s press conference was the second day in a row House Democrats questioned Republican proposals and priorities. Tuesday (April 5) the focus was on a Tourism and Recreation Department plan to close seven parks as a means to save some $700,000 a year. The caucus has agreed on opposition to the park closures, saying it has united urban and rural members.
 
 Inman took the lead in that exchange with the press, with contributions along the way from Reps. Paul Roan of Tishimingo, Will Fourkiller of Stilwell, James Lockhart of Heavener and Seneca Scott of Tulsa. 

 Rep. Lockhart, who represents the area around the Heavener Runestone State Park, was perhaps the most critical of the new agency Secretary. He said constituents wanted to know what was the basis for the closings. He said, “I attempted many times to talk to Deby Snodgrass. My requests were ignored. I find it unacceptable that the department feels it does not have to be accountable. This decision was made behind closed doors and it was not reached in consultation with citizens.”

 Rep. Roan of Atoka County represents the area around Boggy Depot State Park, another of the seven listed for closure. He pointed to the storied history of the region. He said, at several hundred acres, “It is by far the largest of the parks they intend to close. Boggy Depot is a place that pays homage to our past, our present and our great future. I strongly oppose the selling of Boggy Depot State Park.”

 Fourkiller pressed his previously stated opposition to closure of Adair State Park, regaling reporters with sometimes humorous family stories, and saying, “Memories are made there.”

 He also said the park provides a good place “for low income residents. This is a place for them to get exercise, play and fight obesity. It’s a nice safe environment.

 Rep. Inman said the state parks “not only create jobs but also create memories.” In response to a pointed question from one reporter, who observed six of the seven parks are in areas represented by Democratis, Inman said, “I’d certainly hope partisan politics is not a factor in any of these planned closings.”

 The parks the agency intends to close are

•Adair State Park, Stilwell

•Beaver Dunes, Beaver

•Boggy Depot, Atoka

•Brushy Lake, Sallisaw

•Heavener Runestone State Park, Heavener

•Lake Eucha, Jay

•Wah-Sha-She, Copan.

  Agency officials have said the parks are slated to close August 15. The agency faces cuts of perhaps 5% in the coming fiscal year, after a 13% reduction in the current year. 

 Critics of the closings say the projected savings of $700,000 are paltry in light of a $60 million revolving fund for the agency.
 
 Opposition has emerged in areas around the seven parks. If plans to close the facilities advance, some communities and groups are asking for time to find ways to assume control of the parks at the local or regional level. Critics say it is unfair to expect local patrons, who are already taxpayers, to “pay twice” through ongoing taxes and costs to buy the parks to keep them operating.

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