“When we look forward, everything is going to Hades in a hand basket.  When we look back, things have gotten better.”

This “Progress Paradox” by Oklahoma State Senator James Halligan was part of the good news and bad news he presented to members and guests at Cushing Lion’s Club on Tuesday.

The Good News?  Halligan sees The Oil Industry moving forward, wells are being drilled, people are buying up more leases in anticipation of a better future.

The freshman senator from Stillwater was to the point about the “Bad News” current economic situation in Oklahoma and told the 50+ listeners gathered to “plan on tightening your belts” in the coming year or more.  “In 18 to 24 months, we’ll be out of this … it won’t be rosy, but it will be better.”

The senator is Chair of the State Appropriations Committee, Higher Career Education and oversees a budget of $3 million.  Halligan said he believed in being up-front to the public about the Oklahoma budget, especially since the school systems must have their budgets planned by March of this year.  He said schools can expect a 10-15 percent cut in funding.

According to Halligan, Oklahoma has overestimated its budget by 28 percent – the biggest percentage of any state in the country – and the state has a $1.3 billion deficit.

“People ask about the ‘Rainy Day Fund’ of $600 million – why can’t we use that to fund this project?”  The reality is up to $250 million of the ‘Rainy Day Fund’ is already spent.”  There is $600 million in federal stimulus money left, says Halligan, but there will be cuts across the board.

The senator addressed teacher retirement funding, how he is reinforcing NOT cutting budgets for the mentally ill, food stamp, nursing home and hot meals to seniors programs.  He advocates “requiring nursing homes to have an alternate source of power so during bad weather, they do not suffer the cold or heat. Its a little thing to some, but it is important that our seniors do not go without power.”

In responding to a question concerning higher education, Halligan reiterated the importance of keeping and creating jobs, saying that many young adults who graduate high school and college here, “… want to get the dust off their boots and move out of state.  But many of these same Oklahomans want to come back to raise their families here.”  He said the statistics show that in Oklahoma, only 75 of 100 ninth grade students will go on to graduate high school. Further more, only 39 of 100 high school graduates go on to tech schools, colleges or universities.  Only 17 out of 100 of those students entering higher education gain a degree.

Halligan said, “I blame this on Math…” challenging schools to put more emphasis and dollars on academics rather than sports and students should be more adept at Math and Algebra on entering higher education.

Halligan advocates a look at the “leadership at the helm” of schools in the state, stating that principals of low-performing schools should perhaps be evaluated.  After three years of low performance, the position should possibly be filled with someone else.

Talking about the blessings, freedom and abundance we have in Oklahoma and in our nation, Senator Halligan left the podium with an optimistic note.  “We have all been through tough times before.  We’ll get through this together.”

“I believe that it is still morning in America.”