Revenue failure chips away at higher ed funding

March 6, 2017 Featured Slider, News Print Print
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The state of Oklahoma has declared a revenue failure.

For the second straight year, the Oklahoma legislature doesn’t have enough money to pay its bills. On February 21, the Oklahoma Board of Equalization announced an $878 million shortfall. This means the state will have 12.7 percent less money to work with than it did last year.

A report produced by the Board of Equalization indicates that much of the shortfall is due to a significant decrease in revenue generated from the Corporate Income Tax. Revenue generated from the Gross Production of Oil Tax failed to provide much cushion due to state enforced tax breaks for the oil industry.

So who will be footing the bill to make up the shortfall?

Article Ten, Section 23 of the Oklahoma State Constitution says revenue shortfalls are to be made up by across-the-board cuts to multiple state agencies. According to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, state agencies can expect to see cuts of up to $34.6 million dollars.

Those cuts include $4.2 million from the Dept. of Human Services, $4.65 million from higher education, $4.65 million from the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority, $3 million from the Dept. of Corrections, $2.1 million from mental health services, and an $11.1 million dollar cut to public education.

OCCC’s Chief Financial Officer John Boyd said the college was “drastically affected by the budget cuts” for fiscal year 2016.

“We went through and looked at all of our operating budgets. We eliminated unfilled positions out of our staffing plan. We did also increase tuition. That really helped soak up the significant reduction in state appropriations,” Boyd said.

He said OCCC will have to look very hard at whether we need to change the way the college operates.

“We are going to have to change the way we do business.” Boyd said, “It most likely means we may have to cut some programs and services. We may have to combine some sections. This may mean more students per class.”

Last year students saw tuition increases from $83 to $87 per credit hour plus a recurring $5 security fee. The fee is used to pay for on-campus safety measures required by the state and federal government.

Boyd indicated that there have not been any talks yet about another tuition and fee increase. Those talks will not occur until April.

During Higher Education Day at the Capitol on Feb. 14, state Senator Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow, discussed his constituents’ concerns about higher education.

“I talk to the people in Higher Ed and they are concerned with funding,” he said. “The public is concerned if they are using their funds properly. I think from a legislative standpoint you have to look and see how they are using their funds in a fiscally conservative manner where the taxpayer’s needs are meet.”

Boyd disagrees.

“People think that colleges are administratively bloated. If they saw what we have to do on a daily basis just to keep everything running smooth, they may have a change of attitude. The mission of the college is to provide access to the students so that they can get an education. There is a lot that has to happen for that to be available,” Boyd said.

State Representative Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, said he believes the biggest concern in higher education is not the misuse of funds, but rather finding revenue that doesn’t put the burden on the backs of working Oklahomans. Dollens is referring to Governor Fallin’s recent tax proposal. The governor is suggesting a tax increase on nearly 160 services. Dollens applauded the governor for making an effort to fix the state revenue failure.

“At least she proposed a plan. It’s not a good plan, but at least it’s a starting point,” he said. “Too bad Lt. Governor Lamb jumped ship when the job got tough and didn’t propose a plan on how he is going to fund higher education.”  

The governor’s proposal incorporates a diverse mix of regressive service taxes that includes things like dog grooming, funeral services, and trailer parks, to name a few. Dollens believes this type of taxation disproportionately affects the working class.

To counter the governor’s plan Dollens says, “The Democratic caucus is going to roll out a very comprehensive, detailed, and progressive revenue plan that will bring in over $1 billion a year.”

Despite the political rhetoric coming from both the Republicans and Democrats, these policies have real-life repercussions for students.

Oklahoma State Regents Chancellor Glen D. Johnson said budget cuts “have resulted in forced furloughs and the reduction of academic programs, personnel, student services, and college degree completion initiatives.”

“As we continue preparations for our FY 2018 budget, our state system of higher education continues to implement significant cost-cutting measures, including sharing faculty and administrators between institutions, consolidation of back-office administrative functions, joint academic degree programs between institutions, travel reductions, early retirement options, and consolidation of campus sites,” Johnson, a former Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, said.

Sociology major Cornelia Vann said she was able to lessen the blow from last year’s tuition increase by applying for scholarships. “I’m worried about tuition increases because the extra money spent on tuition could mean less gas money to and from school for some students.”

For students who are struggling to pay for school, she recommends checking out the Oklahoma City Community College Academic Works website. This is where students can discover scholarship opportunities on campus.

Education major Colette Pouliot says she’s worried about the cuts.

“Eventually, I’m going to be in big trouble if tuition keeps going up,” Pouliot said. “I get no help from my family and I pay out-of-state tuition. Financial aid doesn’t cover everything.”

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