By Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman)
The House Democratic Caucus unveiled a future for Oklahoma this past week.
Through dramatic changes to our criminal justice system, education system, health care system, and the state’s economy, the House Democratic Caucus put together a plan that invests not in banks, corporations, or wealthy individuals who are already doing well but in everyday people. Our Brand New State agenda is a commitment to Oklahomans who have been left behind by their state government.
For more than a decade, for no reason other than politics, rural Oklahoma has been ravaged not by a failing economy but by a failing state government. Oklahoma taxpayers have sent millions of dollars in taxes to the federal government, subsidizing health care in states like California and Massachusetts, while hospitals throughout Oklahoma close their doors. By accepting the proven Medicaid expansion that has been adopted and implemented successfully in 36 states, the Brand New State agenda puts a billion dollars into Oklahoma’s health care system at no additional cost to Oklahoma taxpayers.
While hospitals across Oklahoma closed and reduced services, Oklahoma’s workforce, specifically low and middle-wage earners, were called on to pick up the slack for a loss of state revenue due to tax cuts and credits for high-earning individuals and corporations.
While wealthier Oklahomans benefited from the removal of income brackets, working Oklahomans suffered from the reduction of the Earned Income Tax Credit. While corporations benefited from a low minimum wage, Oklahomans making $50,000 a year paid twice the amount in taxes as a percentage of their income as those at the top. By calling for a higher minimum wage, restoring the EITC and providing state retirees with a cost of living adjustment, the Brand New State agenda puts money back in the pockets of Oklahoma’s workers and retirees.
Unfortunately, the economy and health care are not the only policy areas that have been affected by the inaction of state government. This year, Governor Stitt, who was against the teacher walkout for education in 2018 and the revenue-raising package that gave teachers a pay raise, proposed a budget that increases state funding for public schools by $12 million and private schools by $25 million.
This is theft. Our public schools are being robbed of public monies that should be helping schools across the state reduce class sizes and provide a better educational environment for our students. This redistribution of revenue from public schools to private schools is an assault on our public education community and rural communities that rely on the viability of public schools.
The Brand New State agenda is the first agenda to protect rural communities and public schools by calling for Oklahoma to lead the region in funding for education. If there is a bright spot in our state government, it is that there is a willingness by many Republicans to work with Democrats on the issue of criminal justice reform. Through both legislation and the initiative petition process, Oklahoma has made great strides in reducing our incarceration rate, but the work is not yet done. Through increased access to mental health services and policy changes that put people ahead of punitive justice, the Brand New State agenda continues our state’s efforts to create a fair and just criminal justice system that focuses on public safety and common sense rather than retribution.
I love Oklahoma. I love the people, I love Oklahoma football, but I don’t love the way our state treats people who don’t have a lot of money in the bank. The House Democratic Caucus created this agenda because we are tired of seeing people across the state and entire communities suffer while those who have influence through money flourish. It is time for a different approach. It’s time for a Brand New State.