There are several decisions the leaders of our city, county, state and federal governments must make now in order for us to judge their effectiveness as elected leaders. It is not a time to hear about their feelings and shed tears; we all know about difficulties. It is time for them to lead, not only for today, but for our future well-being. Our leaders need to show more than strength in the midst of what is right in front of us. We also need them to have vision beyond this crisis so that our future is secure and prosperous.
Every city in Oklahoma will soon experience a major hit to their only source of operating revenue — sales taxes. Our leaders can do several things. The state government can pass legislation allowing each city to vote to allow property taxation to pay for operational needs. Unless that happens, every municipality will be laying off public employees.
Our local school boards and superintendents must immediately require every high school to have a full-time career path focus that does not require a college degree — everything from aviation and automobile mechanics to software creation and welding. Students who do not have a college degree in their future must be given new choices for career paths that pay very well. Our Career Tech leaders will be welcome partners in that requirement.
The state of Oklahoma owns almost 1 million acres of surface land that does not pay county property taxes and generates minimal revenues. The Commissioners of the Land Office should immediately sell that land to property tax-paying owners to benefit local school districts. The sales proceeds would pay for the public school districts teaching the noncollege career path.
Every municipality and county government pay a significant fee to the Oklahoma Tax Commission to collect sales taxes from merchants. That fee should be deferred, at least temporarily. It costs Tulsa about $500,000 a year.
The city of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma have implemented millions of dollars of efficiencies. Now is the time for the Tulsa County commissioners to embark on a top-to-bottom evaluation of county government assisted by nonelected business leaders. If the commissioners refuse, the state Legislature must allow the creation of appropriate groups to consolidate city and county governments. Our form of county government is antiquated and needs to be re-evaluated.
The charter of the city of Tulsa requires that 60% of the city budget be set aside for public safety. Unfortunately, that limits the flexibility of the mayor to manage the priorities of the city anticipating the upcoming loss of tax revenue. Our city government should immediately call for an election to repeal that requirement.
On Jan. 2, the price paid for crude oil was $65 a barrel. Last Friday, it sat at $19.84. The COVID-19 virus is a partial reason for that decline in pricing. The major reason was moves by Saudi Arabia and Russia to increase oil production to push down the price of crude oil and push the U.S. oil and natural gas industry out of business. Without help from Washington, D.C., that goal will be accomplished and that every related service company and equipment manufacturer will be decimated.
The flooding of worldwide oil markets to destroy our oil industry is unlawful. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and Continental Resources founder and Executive Chairman Harold Hamm are pursuing a day in court with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Inhofe and Hamm need public support. Every city, county and state official as well as all chambers of commerce must respond. This is a direct threat to our national security — our domestic energy industries are in the crosshairs.
If the Legislature needs to approve a budget and adjourn quickly, I suggest the leaders commit to a summer session to deal with these issues.
These recommendations will certainly create a howl of distress, mainly from those who are very comfortable with the current way of doing things.
As taxpayers, we always deserve good leadership, especially when a national, regional and local emergency demands serious leadership.
Dewey Bartlett Jr. is a Tulsa oil man and former mayor of Tulsa.