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Candidate has plans to reverse trends

Oklahoma is at a watershed moment and state leaders must decide whether they are going to make changes or keep going in the same direction, former State Attorney General Drew Edmondson said.

Edmondson, who announced in 2017 that he was a Democratic candidate for governor, was in Lawton and other Southwest Oklahoma communities last week as part of his Take Back Oklahoma Tour. And his statewide tour has provided insight to what Oklahomans are thinking.

While Southeast Oklahoma is worried about losing its water to Texas, western and eastern Oklahomans  particularly those in rural communities  fear the loss of their schools and hospitals.

Edmondson, who has offered plans to reverse those trends, said one of his key arguments is that the loss affects economic development. He said companies look at specific things when they search for expansion possibilities. And, a state where 20 percent of its public schools have gone to four-day weeks because of the budget crisis could stymie economic development because CEO's are going to ask "why should we invest in Oklahoma when you are not?"

He said Oklahoma has cut funding to higher education more than any other state in the nation, and the state in second place  Alabama  has cut only half of what Oklahoma has cut. As a result, tuition costs are rising, meaning fewer Oklahomans can afford to go to college.

And, he decries the budget cuts that have forced rural hospitals to close and are endangering other facilities.

Edmondson said his plan to address those concerns is the plan to address the state budget crisis as a whole.

Gross production tax

One of his first goals: bring the gross production tax back to 7 percent for horizontal drillers.

"I support that," he said, explaining the state decision to cut the gross production tax was an incentive to encourage energy companies to pursue horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

The technique worked; while smaller companies still use vertical wells (and still pay the 7 percent gross production tax, he said), the majority of drillers use the horizontal technique.

"We no longer need the incentive," he said, adding the financial gains of that incentive are added to the drilling companies' profits. "It's time to sunset it (the incentive)."

Medicaid expansion

Pointing to action that would address the medical crisis in rural Oklahoma, Edmondson said the state must opt into federal Medicaid expansion, if that option still is open. He said Oklahoma didn't accept those expansion dollars when they were offered and as a result, money that should be coming to Oklahoma is going to other states. Without those federal dollars, Oklahoma rural communities are seeing the loss of their medical facilities and nursing homes, he said.

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