Here at the Okmulgee Area Development Corp. we try our best to stay on top of the news about the economy, our State, and of course what's going on locally. To this end we spend a lot of time reading. Reports, newspapers, social media, state agency reports, studies and research papers, well you get the idea. One of the items I usually like to check is the list of all the meetings that are being held by state agencies. The week I was writing this editorial there happened to be 17 Oklahoma State Agency Meetings. Out of that 17, only one (1) was available via zoom. The app chosen is not the question, (Zoom vs Go To Meetings) the question is: with as much on-line practice as everyone got during the peak months of the pandemic, why aren't all State agency meetings available online? By law they are all public. Plus we are all being asked to drive less (reduce air pollution) so why not make them all available online? Are there some costs? Yes. But in the interest of an open and transparent state government I think it’s a cost that could be handled.
While we’re talking about our State, how about the ARPA and Build Back Better funds coming from the Federal Government. How much did Oklahoma receive? How are they going to distribute those funds? Are they going to be restricted to tangible projects like new sewer lines, streets, bridges or can they be used to do planning and research? Who makes the final decision(s) on how much each community receives?
So that begs the question, of the money already distributed to counties and cities, how much was passed through and what will be the process at each government level to decide how that money gets spent? We can’t read every press release, nor attend every local government meeting, but if the amounts I’ve heard are realistic, I hope the counties and cities involve the citizens in those decisions and choices. Sunlight is very important here, not just for good information, but for a government for the people by the people.
While we’re talking about funding and “new money.” It will be very interesting to see how the State Legislature appropriates the money left in the coffers after the State Budget was done in the last session. According to the Associated Press in July of this year: “The $282 million surplus, plus an additional $30 million in unexpected excess corporate income taxes, put the total balance of the state’s Rainy-Day Fund at $370 million.”
Well one consideration is that we should always save for a rainy day, can we all agree on that one? With that level of State revenue over expenses, I’m hoping we can begin to restore funding to some State functions that have lived with no increase for over a decade. For example Oklahoma State University is operating on a State appropriation equal to what they used to receive in 1995. I have no idea what the appropriations are for our major universities let alone our directional schools. Since we hear a constant drum beat for better employees, maybe it’s time to move the needle on education funding in Oklahoma. Just a thought.