Oklahoma candidates discuss issues facing seniors

(Left to Right) Lt. Governor Jeri Askins, Senator Randy Brogdon and Attorney General Drew Edmondson. (Source: NewsOK.com)
Oklahoma candidates discuss issues facing seniors
Revenue’s a factor in state’s ability to offer services

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT The Oklahoman Comments 2 Published: January 13, 2010

Speaking to a room full of seniors and agencies providing services for them, three of the four gubernatorial candidates acknowledged Tuesday it will be difficult to fund programs for the elderly because of declining state revenues.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson suggested weaning the state off taxes on volatile natural gas production. Lt. Gov. Jari Askins warned of cost-saving measures that could affect the quality of care in living facilities for the elderly. State Sen. Randy Brogdon said it is time legislators take a hard look at cutting government’s various programs and growth and dedicate money to services.

U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Oklahoma City, was in Washington and did not attend the forum sponsored by the Oklahoma State Council on Aging and dozens of agencies dealing with senior issues.

Gov. Brad Henry is prohibited from seeking a third successive term.

Each candidate vying to be Oklahoma’s top executive in this year’s election spoke for several minutes and answered one question from the audience. The 30-minute, nonconfrontational forum was attended by about 300 at Metro Technology Center’s Springlake Campus in northeast Oklahoma City.

Edmondson, a Democrat, said his focus would be to revive Oklahoma’s economy by working to create jobs. He suggested money from the state’s gross production tax on natural gas and oil — that now goes to the state’s general operating fund that pays for critical services — be instead placed in the Economic Development Generating Excellence research endowment fund. That would reduce dependence on natural gas prices and stabilize the state’s revenues and build up the endowment fund that is intended to help startup research companies that would generate jobs, he said.

In the short term, budget decisions must be made to fund services that deal with Oklahomans’ lives, such as health care, education and public safety, said Edmondson, who is passing up seeking a fifth term as attorney general.

"Lives are more important than buildings,” he said. "When we’re making vital determinations about where to spend our money, we need to make those determinations on the subject of where the services meet the road.”

Askins, a Democrat, said she’s concerned the cut in state programs would result in more seniors having to stay in a nursing home or assisted living center.

Askins, who said she supports adult day care centers, said she is concerned about nursing homes becoming overcrowded. She said she is concerned budget cuts could result in nursing homes reducing staff or qualifications of staff.

"These are issues that we cannot wait for our economy to improve to address,” she said.

Brogdon, R-Owasso, said state spending must be slowed; state government spending from 2005 to 2007 grew nearly four times the amount spent in the private sector, he said.

"We are in a very serious budget situation because the state Legislature with the approval of the governor has chosen to overspend and overdraw ... the state’s checking account ... for the last decade.”

Brogdon said he wants more money to go to services instead of going to programs created during boom times, such as the requirement that state bridges and buildings contain some artwork. .

"We have challenges but I believe with all of my heart we have some incredible opportunities to rethink, retool and reprioritize the spending by the state Legislature,” Brogdon said.

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