OU Forced To Close Free Clinics; No New Taxes!

News out of the Norman Transcript today: OU is facing severe budget shortfalls and is being forced to close 8 of its 27 health clinics serving some of the city’s most under-privileged population. OU-Tulsa President Dr. Gerard Clancy said that the closings were due to dwindling state funds and the realization that there’s only so much private donations can do.

The article goes on to explain how helpful the clinics are, serving people who don’t have insurance and can’t pay. Many of these centers are located at elementary schools and can help shore up problems students have in their home life which leads to problems at school. One such school, Mark Twain Elementary, saw test scores go from rock bottom to the top 15-20 percent after the clinic opened.

There’s a couple of points worth addressing here. One is the need for low cost medical care for those who need it. The state is out of money and can no longer afford to help pay for the clinics. It seems to be a no-brainer that this should be a spending priority for those at the capitol. It’s very likely that some of the federal stimulus money currently propping up state finances is going to dry up soon and OK will be even worse shape. I  know many Oklahomans are diametrically opposed to taxes of any kind, but is this an issue that might change their minds? According to the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs, in 2006, Oklahoma’s property tax burden is $17.06 per $1,000 of personal income. Compared to the nation as a whole, this is the 4th smallest property tax burden.

The other aspect is spending priorities. I know OKC is separate from Norman, so it might not be fair to compare their situations. But consider that development in Bricktown is the hot ticket up in Oklahoma County. Luckily for our budget, the City Council has regained some sanity and axed projects that would have cost the city millions with no guarantee on return. I applaud them for their efforts but to continue to focus only on the well-heeled denizens who cavort in Bricktown is a huge part of the problem.

The bottom line is that our budget picture is dire and a small increase in taxes would help keep it in the black. When a municipality has to close clinics that serve the poor and homeless, they will still  get sick. they’ll just go to the emergency room where the cost of care is passed on to everyone else. Norman recently defeated a tax hike that would have payed for continued water and trash service. If voters in the metro, including Norman, won’t accept higher taxes to pay for trash pick-up, why would anyone think they would approve taxes to pay for health care? It’s part of a growing trend across the country: people like and depend on many services that taxes pay for. They just don’t want to actually pay the taxes necessary.

Oklahomans have to realize that taxes aren’t some evil bogeyman; they are part of the society we live in. If no one paid any taxes, not only would there be no trash service, there wouldn’t be roads, schools, or police and fire departments. It’s time for the state to reverse its thinking on the function government plays and stop hoping pie in the sky economic proposals will save us all. We have the lowest taxes in two generations and still people are clamoring that it’s too high. If that attitude doesn’t change, it might not be just free clinics that will be shuttered.

(cross-posted on the Examiner.com)

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