Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers
Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:
The Journal Record. June 19, 2017.
There are plenty of federal government programs that manage the money from taxpayers well. Americans want safe water, good highways, and a strong, well-prepared military to keep us safe.
But there are programs that leave taxpayers scratching their heads. Two members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation are trying to correct one such bit of fiscal irresponsibility: the federal subsidization of sports stadiums.
According to research by the Brookings Institution, 36 of the 45 stadiums built or renovated since 2000 were financed with public money, typically municipal bonds. Since municipal bonds are tax-exempt, the IRS missed out on an estimated $3.7 billion in revenue. Fifth District Rep. Steve Russell and Sen. James Lankford wrote bills this year to end that practice.
Prior to 1953, sports stadiums were privately built. But that year, the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee in large part to take advantage of a new stadium built with public money and with that the horse was out of the barn. Oklahomans gained nothing when the New York Yankees got a new $2.3 billion stadium in 2009 but paid their share of the $431 million federal subsidy nonetheless.
The economic development argument is that a sports stadium is good for business, that the public spends more in nearby restaurants, that more hotel rooms are booked and that the panache of having a major league team carries with it such a powerful intangible benefit that the whole community benefits. Economists disagree.
“Few fields of empirical economic research offer virtual unanimity of findings,” economists John Siegfried and Andrew Zimbalist wrote in The Journal of Economic Perspectives. “Yet independent work on the economic impact of stadiums and arenas has uniformly found that there is no statistically significant positive correlation between sports facility construction and economic development.”
Oklahoma cities chose the fiscally conservative course; arenas here were built without debt, including the Chesapeake Arena. That good sense can’t be forced upon other municipalities, but when a local government in another state decides paying for a new stadium is a good idea it doesn’t mean Oklahomans should help foot the bill.
Russell’s HR 811 and Lankford’s Eliminating Federal Tax Subsidies for Stadiums Act would eliminate the effective subsidy by making it illegal to build stadiums with tax-exempt bonds but they would also make it possible to subsidize stadiums with taxes on tickets and in-stadium purchases.
That would shift the burden to the community that benefits, and that’s exactly where it should be.
Enid News & Eagle. June 19, 2017.
The recent shooting at a congressional baseball practice — which left U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and several others injured — sent shock waves across the country.
How could something like this happen? How did we get to this point? Those are two of the questions many people had in the wake of the shootings.
The gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Illinois, espoused strong anti-Republican opinions and targeted Republicans in his attack.
It was GOP lawmakers who were practicing that Wednesday morning when he opened fire in what was a premeditated attack. Hodgkinson ended up dying in a shootout with officers.
After the shootings, people everywhere said the right things — how we all needed to step back and tone down the political rhetoric.
But, that’s easier said than done, especially in the political climate we have seen in recent years.
Even in the halls of Congress, debate on issues often has degenerated into anger and childish displays.
Six weeks ago, House Republicans barely won a bitterly fought vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. After the vote, Democrats stood in the ornate Capitol chamber and serenaded their counterparts.
“Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey! Goodbye!” they sang, implying the vote would be the Republicans’ downfall.
To be fair, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Members of both parties have been guilty of inflaming debates and spreading ill will.
GOP Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania said after the shootings, “things have gotten out of hand.”
“Something has happened in the country and it’s not good,” he said.
The bad blood seemed to spread throughout the country. Taking their cue from lawmakers, people took things even further — even to extremes Hodgkinson espoused.
Barletta said he has been the target of threats from people because of his voting record.
“Just recently, I had a threat from somebody who said people were going to die because of a vote I took,” Barletta said. “He had my address, and he said he was going to make sure I die, too. You become numb to it because you don’t take it as a serious thing that’s going to happen. But then something like this happens.”
To be sure, the blame for this incident rests squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator.
Hodgkinson was a man filled with hatred, and he finally let that hatred out in the worse possible way.
Since the shooting, lawmakers have pulled together. At the congressional baseball game itself, Republicans and Democrats stood together, they kneeled and prayed together.
They talked of the importance of getting back to more civil discourse and even bipartisanship —which has become a bad word lately.
“When the leadership of Congress becomes more civil toward each other, maybe the public could be more civil to each other, too,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania.
This is not something that’s going to happen instantly. We’re not all going to wake up in the morning and come to our senses.
We hope, though, something good comes out of this situation and we do see more civility — in the halls of Congress and across the country.
Tulsa World. June 20, 2017.
State funding to public schools — which wasn’t adequate to begin with — came up $54 million short last year.
And, in the crazy world of Oklahoma education circles, that’s almost good news.
If you’re wondering why more and more districts are closed on Fridays, west Tulsa schools are being consolidated and class sizes are going up, the answer is clear.
Perennially, the Oklahoma Legislature has failed to fund public schools adequately. When lawmakers undercut the state’s tax base based on unrealistic expectations that it would produce economic growth, that problem got markedly worse, such that the state budget has been in a long-term downward spiral with a series of gaping budget holes and revenue failures.
So, teachers are fleeing the profession and the state, and schools are suffering.
Why is it “good” news that the state shorted school districts by $54 million? Because at one point it looked like the state was going to short them by $100 million.
Thank Oklahoma City for small favors.
Of course, schools have to plan for the potential for more colossal failures. They legally can’t end the year without a positive balance sheet.
Legislators were aware of the problem — candidates from both parties told us last fall that school funding was the No. 1 issue on the minds of voters when they were campaigning for office.
But hamstrung by an inadequate state tax base and an inability to find the needed votes to come up with a better and sustainable funding structure, not enough got done. The 2018 state budget could well fail again — if the Supreme Court rules the wrong way on the new cigarette tax fee, it certainly will. Even with good luck before the Supreme Court, the state will almost certainly start next year with a budget hole of at least $400 million.
Let’s remember, the budget hole is the amount of money the state doesn’t have to continue its current funding level, which is inadequate and routinely is not fulfilled.
Until Oklahoma voters grow up and recognize that a sustainable, adequate budget for schools and other basic state services requires a sufficient general tax base, we’ll just have to get used to more “good” news coming from Oklahoma City.