Dead Canary States
Oklahoma and Kansas are dead canary states. Both have succumbed like a canary in a coal mine to the toxic air of a radically right wing, corporate controlled, fossil fuel dominated, theocratic leaning, and ALEC orchestrated republican government that has cut taxes and rolled back regulations for wealthy individuals and corporations under the distracting smokescreen of a barrage of anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQI, anti-Muslim, and anti-Latino rhetoric and legislation. All the while these two states have dramatically reduced investments in public education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other basic services with disproportionately negative impact on the poor and most vulnerable citizens. In addition, Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rate on the entire planet (not an exaggeration). Both states are broke and broken – failed experiments in extremism. Oklahoma and Kansas serve as a clear warning for all other states who might be considering a journey into the depths of this section of the republican coal mine where little to no resistance is given over against unregulated capitalism, and where time and time again the interests of corporations and the wealthy elite are valued over the common good.
Kansas succumbed earlier than Oklahoma as it was not buoyed in the same way as Oklahoma by years of an oil and gas boom; but even during the boom, Oklahoma cut income taxes and offered oil and gas companies hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks such that the state was left unprepared for the inevitable bust – it is not like Oklahoma has not seen the cycle of boom and bust before. Even during the boom, Oklahoma reduced state funded per pupil spending more than any other state in the country, cuts that are now even deeper owing to the bust. And now in the bust, Oklahoma is experiencing repeated revenue failures and $1.3 billion budget shortfall for 2016-2017.
The Oklahoma Legislature’s response to the revenue failures and the budget shortfall highlighted in bold relief the sickness unto death that the failed Kansas/Oklahoma experiment has become. In action after action and in bill after bill passed by the legislature over the past month, the burden of the cuts was placed on the backs of the poor and most vulnerable. Some rural hospitals are closing and quality healthcare (including mental healthcare) is becoming less accessible, state supplemental payments are being delayed, teachers are being laid off and many common education programs cut, higher education and environmental protection programs received disproportionately large cuts, and the working poor had cuts in their earned income tax credits. Over and over again the wealthy and the oil and gas industry were protected from harm. A grossly ill-timed state income tax cut that disproportionately favored the wealthy was not repealed, and no cuts were made to the hundreds of millions of dollars of tax relief given to the fossil fuel industry on gross production of oil and gas. An ideological aversion to Obamacare kept the legislature from accepting the federal expansion of Medicaid that could benefit the health of hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans. $29 million were taken from poor working families in the cuts to the earned income tax credit, while the wealthy and oil and gas companies were held harmless. And let’s not forget, this is the same oil and gas industry that has made Oklahoma the earthquake capital of the world through its wastewater injection wells and externalized the cost of the damage and the cost of earthquake insurance onto private citizens.
As the New York Times Editorial Board correctly opined, Oklahoma’s response to the budget crisis was to make the poor poorer – “Republicans controlling the Oklahoma Legislature cruelly targeted some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens — the working poor.” It is not enough that the canary has died in this failed republican experiment; the vultures have moved in to pick at the carcass. Message to the rest of the country – you have been warned.