Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers
The Associated Press
Apr. 04, 2017
Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:
Muskogee Phoenix. April 1, 2017.
Government agencies should have oversight and should be reviewed to determine how well the agency does its job.
It's also OK for agencies to be reviewed to determine whether the agency has outlived its job description.
A bill in the Oklahoma Legislature would create a 21st Century Corporation Commission Task Force to probe whether the agency is properly structured for the new millennium.
That's probably a wise move.
Taxpayers deserve someone taking an occasional look at the performance of government agencies.
Taxpayers deserve to have their money spent wisely.
The review should be independent enough to ensure no bias one way or the other.
This review can't be a rubber stamp approval of the commission nor can it be a hatchet job meant to destroy the agency.
And the results can't eventually leave the fox in charge of the henhouse.
Taxpayers need a Corporation Commission.
The commission, for example, intervened as earthquakes began mounting in Oklahoma.
An independent, unbiased review of the commission is a practical undertaking.
Tulsa World. April 2, 2017.
We don't have much sympathy for people serving life without parole in Oklahoma's prisons. There might be a few outliers who deserve some mercy, but we're convinced for the most part that they are guilty and they are where they are for a reason.
We do have sympathy for Oklahoma taxpayers, however, and it's becoming apparent that our state's habit of sending prisoners away forever without recourse is extraordinarily expensive and might not always be worth the price.
A recent analysis in the Tulsa World by reporters Ginnie Graham and Curtis Killman shows that the state is spending at least $17 million a year on its 885 life-without-parole prisoners.
That doesn't include medical costs, and as the forever-and-ever prisoners get older — the current median age is 45 — those medical costs will skyrocket. The state has to pay 100 percent of those costs, while the same prisoners would be eligible for federally underwritten entitlements outside the walls.
Beyond the medical issues, we see three points that seem self-evident:
— Life-without-parole prisoners are, by definition, a greater challenge and more expensive to manage. They have no incentive not to continue acting criminally in prison and are presumptive escape risks.
— When jurors opt for life without parole, they base their choice on the person in front of them at the moment of deliberation. They cannot possibly know what will become of the same person in the future. Good stewardship of state resources demands that there be some means of subsequent review for those who are no longer dangerous because of age, infirmity or, in a very few cases, genuine reformation. We absolutely must keep the ones who are still a menace to society, but we need to rethink what to do with those who have outlived their danger.
— In a small portion of cases, people are serving life-without-parole sentences because of revised sentencing laws designed to target drug dealers. Pending legislation would allow prisoners serving life-without-parole sentences on nonviolent crimes to seek sentence modification from a district judge after 10 years. That seems reasonable to us.
The state's fiscal house is in shambles. If reducing costs is part of the solution to that situation, the best possible place to save money is in the state corrections department, where costs are being driven ever higher by the state's addiction to incarceration. The big savings should come from reducing the number of petty and reformable criminals serving prison time, but a part of the solution should also include a modest rethinking of life without parole.
The Oklahoman. April 2, 2017.
The Legislature is halfway through this year's session, but there's still little indication of broad goals, strategy or focus. That's in keeping with recent sessions, which is a major reason why public disapproval of the Legislature is so high.
Budget challenges and teacher pay are the only major issues regularly touted, yet lawmakers have done little to suggest they have serious proposals to address those problems, which are interrelated. Both chambers have passed teacher pay raise measures, but funding remains unaddressed.
Furthermore, there's little indication those plans are based on any credible analysis that will maximize taxpayer benefits. Allegedly, teachers are fleeing Oklahoma. Yet no one has produced a list of related vacancies that would indicate if the problem is especially pronounced in specific jobs (such as math and science) or in specific parts of the state. Nor has there been any serious effort to address other issues commonly cited as reasons for leaving in teachers' exit interviews.
Failure to tailor a plan to market reality could mean increased spending will do little to reduce the problem.
To their credit, Senate leadership has argued for giving larger pay raises to the most experienced teachers. Of course, that doesn't mean the best teachers will always get the largest raises, as would happen with merit pay. So, for the most part, the teacher pay discussion appears to be based on this model: put money toward a problem and hope things change. And there's no separate talk of education reforms that would improve academic achievement.
This is occurring against a backdrop of a budget shortfall that is within eyeshot of $900 million. Lawmakers keep saying everything is on the table while acting as though nothing is on the table. One approach is to increase taxes. But tax measures didn't emerge from committee because Republican lawmakers didn't want to go on record in support, even for relatively popular ideas like raising the tobacco tax.
That leaves budget cuts as the other option. But no one wants to go on record endorsing major cuts to any area of government. Lawmakers haven't even announced a budget floor for any agency, even though that would likely help schools facing contracting decisions this spring.
So far, this session has been marked not by leadership, but by a steadfast refusal to take a stand. Thus, many expect this session to end as most do, in a rush of last-minute, poorly vetted legislation involving changes implemented without any strategic vision or public review.
It's also likely to mean another round of cuts to agencies, some of them quite steep, in a practice that cannot continue year after year. Lawmakers' focus on state agency funding means they're missing the bigger picture and have done little to advance policy to boost the Oklahoma economy. The state's budget challenges will be solved by economic growth, not the other way around. Oklahoma's greatest challenge may be that lawmakers don't seem to understand that fact.