On Tuesday, State Question 744 will be on the Oklahoma ballot. What Oklahoma citizens might not realize is the potential devastating impact its passage will have on seniors and the long-term care industry that provides for them.
State Question 744 is an amendment to the state constitution that requires Oklahoma state government to spend an equal amount on education as the six states surrounding Oklahoma: Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas.
If SQ 744 passes, the Oklahoma Legislature will be forced to find $1 billion per year to give to education. And every time one of the six surrounding states increases how much it spends on public schools, Oklahomans will be required by law to increase how much it spends on schools too.
There is no existing funding source to provide the money that will be needed — and the proponents even admit that.
So where will this $1 billion come from? Taxpayers and state agencies.
If taxes don't increase, the Legislature would be forced to cut the state budget by $1 billion. That means every other area of state government — programs, departments and services — would face severe cuts. Not a single state program, department or service would be bypassed.
The Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers strongly opposes State Question 744. The passage of SQ 744 could have the most devastating impact on our state budget in history. Public safety, agriculture, prisons, roads and bridges and nursing homes will suffer.
Senior citizens in nursing homes rely heavily on state funding. If SQ 744 passes, our already razor-thin budget will be completely devastated.
For Oklahoma's 316 nursing homes, and the nearly 20,000 people who reside there, additional budget cuts would be catastrophic. Hundreds of key jobs would be eliminated, quality improvement programs would lose funding and, ultimately, important long-term care facilities that are already struggling due to chronic underfunding would have to close.
Nearly 100 nursing homes in Oklahoma have been forced to close since 2000 from a lack of funding. Further cuts initiated by SQ 744 will put almost all nursing homes in Oklahoma at risk of closure.
This is a critical time for all of us in our state's history, but the passage of SQ 744 would have devastating and far-reaching effects on our families, communities and local economies.
We're not opposed to helping schools, but we do not think it should come at the expense of other state services. Seniors have vital needs that must also be met. Passage of State Question 744 would hurt us all — especially Oklahoma's seniors.
Speak up for those who can't speak for themselves. Vote no Tuesday.
Moore is executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers.