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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

December 24, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman. Dec. 23, 2018.

— Oklahoma surplus a chance to save, not just spend

News that lawmakers will have $612 million more to spend in the 2019 session than in 2018 quickly led to calls to open the spending spigot. If lawmakers have learned the lessons of recent budget shortfalls, they will resist those calls.

While targeted spending increases in high-need areas should occur, lawmakers should understand they don’t have to spend every last dollar, and that building up a larger state savings account is crucial.

A problem in the Legislature is that lawmakers have been so intent on maintaining high levels of government spending that they have relied on budget gimmicks that created annual shortfalls. The crash of oil prices was a primary cause of state government shortfalls, but those were made more severe and continued long after oil prices began to recover because lawmakers had failed to bring spending more in line with revenue. Many Oklahomans have wondered how state government could have massive annual shortfalls even as it experienced 20 consecutive months of growth in monthly gross tax receipts, including record totals, and unemployment fell to a 17-year low. Bad budgeting explains the mess as much as bad economic conditions.

Furthermore, there’s reason to think this year’s surplus may be short-lived. Oil prices have fallen to a 15-month low and have declined nearly 40 percent since reaching a roughly four-year high at the start of October. But the impact of that decline hasn’t yet been felt in state tax collections. The director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services warned earlier this month that recent tax collections reflect the previous, higher oil prices and will likely decline in future months.

Some advocates of greater spending argue Oklahoma government spending, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was a decade ago. But state spending in 2009 and 2010 was inflated by federal stimulus funds, which were provided to state governments on the condition they not reduce spending. That wound up exacerbating some of Oklahoma’s subsequent structural budget problems.

Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt has argued Oklahoma government needs to maintain a much larger savings account of up to $2 billion. Greater state savings would allow lawmakers to mitigate the impact of economic downturns without creating longer-term structural problems caused by gimmicks or the red tape associated with federal stimulus dollars. To his credit, Stitt cautioned lawmakers that this year’s surplus is “not a blank check.”

The best time to save money is when a surplus is available. In most years, a $300 million increase in state appropriation spending would be considered a healthy increase, so there’s no reason lawmakers should spend all $612 million of this year’s growth money while setting nothing aside.

They don’t have to say “no” to every agency spending request, but they do need to use the word occasionally if Oklahoma state finances are to stabilize. It would be far better to have modest, sustainable growth in state spending than a huge one-year surge that creates a large shortfall the following year.

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Enid News & Eagle. Dec. 23, 2018.

— Kudos to local shoppers, first responders and Enid banker

THUMBS UP

Thumbs up for retail sales continuing to rise in Enid and other Northwest Oklahoma county seats as holiday shopping continues.

Sales for Enid are now up $1.9 million, or 2.8 percent, when compared with sales reported in December 2017, according to Oklahoma Tax Commission reports released this month. Year to date in Enid, retail sales are up 4.1 percent.

“The city is pleased to see the increase in sales tax over the same month last year and in the first half of our fiscal year compared to last year. The positive trend is indicative of an improved economic climate,” said City Manager Jerald Gilbert.

In November for Enid, sales were up $3.2 million, or 4.9 percent, when compared to November 2017 sales. At the time, year to date retail numbers had been up 4.2 percent for the year in Enid.

December’s report makes it now 11 consecutive months where Enid’s sales tax numbers have been up. The last month sales were reported down was in January.

Fortunately, a number of area county seats saw retail numbers increase, too.

THUMBS UP

More thumbs up for helping kids do Christmas shopping.

Recently, area first responders were called to duty for a special cause.

As part of the annual First Responders Christmas for Kids, members of the Enid Police Department, North Enid Police Department, Enid Fire Department, Life EMS, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, Oklahoma Highway Patrol and campus police were invited to take about 35 children on Christmas shopping sprees at Walmart.

The children were able to shop with a first responder and spend up to $100 for themselves and their families.

Following the trip, the children wrapped presents, had snacks and drinks, and visited with Santa at Enid First Assembly of God, where free blankets also were given.

Enid Police Department Chief Brian O’Rourke said the program has a great impact on local families.

Enid Fire Department Chief Joe Jackson said he’s been participating about nine or 10 times now. His favorite part is getting out and helping the children, and seeing them smile.

Thanks for helping out these kids in our community!

THUMBS UP

Last, but not least, thumbs up to the chairman of NBC Oklahoma in Enid for being one of the three bankers inducted into the Oklahoma Bankers Hall of Fame.

Chairman Ken Fergeson was one of the three bankers inducted into the hall. Gene Rainbolt, of BancFirst Corp. in Oklahoma City, and Larry Briggs, of First National Bank & Trust Co. in Shawnee, were the other two inductees.

Fergeson’s banking days began with positions at banks in Enid and Oklahoma City. Fergeson’s been the chairman of NBC Oklahoma since purchasing the first location in Altus in 1985.

Since then, the bank has grown to encompass other communities in the state, such as Enid.

In addition to his banking experience and positions, Fergeson’s served on numerous nonprofit boards on local and national levels, and was inducted into Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2009.

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Tulsa World. Dec. 24, 2018.

— A new purpose found for Tulsa’s Laura Dester Center

The evolution of Tulsa’s Laura Dester Shelter has emerged to fill a gap in the Oklahoma child-welfare system.

By Jan. 7, the shelter will open the first nine of 24 inpatient beds for foster children with co-occurring disorders, children with one or more mental health diagnoses and one or more substance use disorders.

It has been an emotional journey for Tulsa child advocates, who rightly questioned how closing emergency shelters would impact foster placements.

The shelter is reopening after a $1.8 million renovation with new operators and a holistic, intensive therapeutic concept.

The Department of Human Services announced about three years ago it would be shutting down emergency shelters in favor of family or group home placements.

An unexpected challenge came among a small group of foster children who struggle with co-occurring disorders. They couldn’t find the right treatment, exacerbating their well-being and chance at a permanent home.

The shelter closed in June after an oversight panel of a federal court-approved improvement plan, known as the Pinnacle Plan, asked a judge to hasten the process.

In its place will be a facility that adds a category to the state’s offerings of therapeutic placements.

Liberty of Oklahoma Corp. will run the facility, and DHS will retain ownership of the property.

The group has been operating the Robert M. Greer Center in Enid for nearly two decades, serving adults with co-occurring disorders. It has stabilized 87 percent of its clients to re-enter their communities safely.

Startlingly, about 80 percent of adults served at the Greer Center spent time in foster care.

It makes sense to have an early treatment program for children with co-occurring medical needs for better outcomes as they enter adulthood.

The Laura Dester Shelter will continue to be an important part of the child-welfare system, living up to what Tulsans wanted in the campus.

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