MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 12, 2014

Programs need to be funded before tax cuts


— Muskogee County’s jail has a population problem, and it’s the state’s fault.

The backlog of state prisoners being kept in Muskogee County/City Detention Facility and other county jails has been a problem for years. Sheriff Charles Pearson said it isn’t getting any better and could get worse if lawmakers approve tax cuts being pushed by Gov. Mary Fallin.

The Muskogee County/City Detention Facility has a capacity of 282 inmates. It frequently houses more than 300. About 25 percent of those inmates have been sentenced and now await transfer to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, but its facilities have remained for years at or near capacity.

Jail Administrator Joe Hughart said many of the state prisoners being housed in Muskogee County have been waiting eight months or longer to be transferred to a state facility.

Alex Weintz, Gov. Mary Fallin’s communications director, said Fallin has asked for “systemwide improvements.” Weintz said the governor “believes the agency can be run more efficiently and effectively, waste can be reduced, and problems like overcrowding can be successfully addressed.”

If that’s the case, why hasn’t it already been addressed?

Fallin has called for another statewide tax cut for Oklahoma’s tax brackets, meaning less collected in taxes by the state government.

It’s nonsensical to cut taxes when we have unfunded needs — overcrowded prisons and a plummeting education budget.

To her credit, Fallin recommended a 0.5 percent increase for Department of Corrections’ budget. That would amount to a $2.4 million bump for a total proposed appropriation of about $466.13 million.

But that isn’t nearly enough.

Until this is fixed, there should be no cuts to the state income tax.