The 51st Oklahoma Legislature has completed its 2007 session. This historic session, which featured a tied Senate, a Republican House and an unfettered governor, will be remembered for a variety of reasons.
It is tougher to get an abortion in Oklahoma than it used to be, but you still easily can sue a doctor, because so-called tort reform once again didn't go anywhere. Immigration policy is tougher on paper. And the governor showed his mighty veto pen in achieving notable compromises in the state budget totaling in the tens of dozens of dollars.
Indeed, from the depths of Mexico, we heard the cry as the veto pen was unsheathed and prepared for use on the actions of a fast-acting, quick-drying Legislature.
That is what it was.
But this epic, historic Legislature also left a variety of crises in the state unaddressed. Here are four:
First, despite the infusion of $200 million into the Oklahoma Teachers' Retirement System, the fund remains woefully undercapitalized. We've hiked teacher pay and improved teacher benefits, but the teachers, college professors and other public education employees who are part of the TRS are still staring at a big, fat IOU for their retirement. Secondly, we cut income taxes again, which is a good thing, but our reliance on taxes related to energy extraction leaves Oklahoma with an unstable long-term revenue stream. Thankfully, the rainy day fund can carry us for about a year on a 30 percent revenue shortfall. But we need to think more about creating a revenue stream that will be stable after we get past the natural-gas bubble. Thirdly, related to our long-term revenue stream issue, is the need to visit again the administrative consolidation of counties and school districts (540 districts at last count). Our entire administrative structure for education and local government is based on a model where people walked or rode horses. There are cost savings to restructuring these governments, if we are brave enough to take the steps. Finally, there is the pressing issue of the day: the state vegetable. Oklahoma has declared the watermelon to be a vegetable " the state vegetable. Now, down in RushSprings, this is good news, as it lends publicity to the late-summer celebration of what is now my favorite vegetable.
However, much like our retirement-system concerns, our long-term revenue instability and our lagging administrative structures, the declaration of the watermelon as the state vegetable creates a long-term concern: If a watermelon is a vegetable, how do you deep-fry it? Seems to me it would explode.
But, then again, that seems to be a potential outcome of a variety of the policy efforts of the 51st Legislature.
Gaddie is a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and partner in TvPoll.com.