Dueling Denunciations: Rainy Day cash, Nursing Home standards

OKLAHOMA CITY – With a special legislative session just two weeks away, the pace  at the state Capitol is slowly picking up. The calendar says it is August, normally a quiet time. But dueling denunciations on topics other than lawsuit reform — focus of the special session starting September 3 – are heard in the halls and meeting rooms.

After State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger announced state tax revenues had grown enough to assure another deposit to the Rainy Day Fund, two House Democrats called for more cash for public education.

State Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, pointed back to voter approval, in 2012, of State Question 766, the constitutional measure barring taxation of intangible property (reputation, good name and such things).  

“Your local school, your city hall is losing millions and millions of dollars though out the state while companies are reaping the benefits from a new tax exemption. Let’s use the Rainy Day fund to make up the difference for our schools and local governments this year and write a proper budget and legislation next year, because the people of Oklahoma will be making up the difference soon with their personal property taxes if we don’t do something.”

Another rural Democrat, Rep.Ed Cannaday of Porum, rhetorically seconded the motion: 

“It’s great that it seems that the new tax exemption with the passage of SQ 766 stimulated the economy enough to make another deposit in our flush Rainy Day Fund. But the result has been a suppression of our schools’ budgets. Any county excise board will tell you, revenues for our schools will be down drastically. Our schools will be doing more with less than ever before unless we act now and use the Rainy Day fund.”

Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, whose district was heavily impacted in the May 20 storms, slapped back at the tornado reference, saying, “This comparison is sickening. 

“The education problem Oklahoma faces is more complex than just a money matter. To trivialize the lives lost, the homes destroyed and the sorrow of families in my district in order to promote a money grab of Oklahoma tax dollars is disturbing. I believe an apology from Rep. Brown is in order and ask that his fellow Democratic members condemn this low brow attempt to gain attention.” 

Echoing Cockroft was state Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City: “There are some issues and tragic events that should not be used in partisan bickering.” 

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Another dust-up came as state Rep. Richard Morrissette joined the advocacy group, Families for Better Care, to assail regulation and administration of nursing homes. The group’s “Nursing Home Report Card” gave Oklahoma a grade of “F.” 

Rep. Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, complained state homes are not required to carry liability insurance, and said the report concludes poor conditions put the state at 48th worst of the 50 states

Morrissette expressed anger that one state rewards program, Focus on Excellence, has handed out $12 million in incentives, including to “caregivers that clearly fail to use the funding to provide adequate protections to residents.”
Morrissette advocates using Medicaid to support seniors at home rather than in institutionalized care. He proposed an Interim Study (IS-062) to study nursing homes, including eight areas of performance. He complained that House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, declined to authorize that study. 

But Joe Griffin, Speaker Shannon’s communications director, shot back. In an interview with Oklahoma Watchdog, he said, “The Speaker’s Office shares Representative Morrissette’s concerns for the least among us and the lives of Oklahoma’s seniors. The Speaker approved three of the representative’s five proposed studies this interim.

“The Speaker’s Office wishes Rep. Morrissette would have made his nursing home study priority known during the selection process instead of directly addressing the media well after the interim study deadline. The door to the Speaker’s Office is always open to all members.” 

Morrissette replied, “My nursing home study request was denied. … For him to respond in this way implies that Oklahoman’s have received adequate consideration and should be content to not have the study heard.” 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.