OpEd by Marnie Taylor, President and CEO
Last week, the Oklahoma Legislature adjourned after one of the toughest sessions in recent history. Faced with yet another revenue shortfall and failure, lawmakers were in a challenging position. Unfortunately, we again face cuts to various programs and agencies that will have repercussions on families, business and the charitable sector.
At the end of the session, the Legislature managed to cobble together a budget that held many agencies harmless and kept cuts to a minimum. However, we continue to see core services not funded at adequate levels for our citizens to thrive. It simply is not sustainable. Oklahomans have been loud and clear that four-day school weeks, rural hospitals on life support and 10-year waiting lists for services are unacceptable.
Once again, nonprofits will be there to fill ever-widening gaps, but this proverbial Dutch boy trying to plug the leaks will get us nowhere. Nonprofit leaders – both staff and board – are pessimistic that Oklahoma can fund core services at levels that ensure all Oklahomans are educated and cared for.
We know the Legislature has been in an incredibly tough position as they try to find revenue to safeguard the health and vitality of the state. This year, I was in the Capitol to lobby against a revenue bill that would remove incentives to give to charity, as we can’t balance a budget on the backs of the nonprofits who are already struggling to fill the gaps. Nonprofits overwhelming echoed this important message. However, we continue to be concerned that the revenue raised in this session won’t survive a constitutional challenge and we could be back at square one in a special session.
Oklahoma deserves better than to be at the bottom of the heap for outcomes. Nonprofits can partner with government thanks to our “boots-on-the-ground” perspective, flexibility, expertise and innovation. Our legislators must work to find sustainable funding mechanisms that will help Oklahoma thrive. We must prioritize excellence in education at all levels, consistently good health care in every corner of the state, human services that provide for our most in need, public safety systems promoting prevention, rehabilitation and equity of treatment for all citizens and an infrastructure that promotes economic prosperity.