Written by Dick Pryor on Tuesday February 15, 2011
More than 2,000 pieces of legislation must be considered by Oklahoma's lawmakers over the next 15 weeks in the first regular session of the 53rd legislature. Republicans hold historically large majorities in the House and Senate (70-31 in the House, 32-16 in the Senate) and for the first time in 8 years a Republican, Mary Fallin, serves as governor. Never before in Oklahoma history have Republicans held such an overwhelming advantage.
That is sure to lead to a change in priorities and direction in state government and policy. The first indication of the agenda to be pursued by the Republican leadership was Governor Fallin's Executive Budget, released on February 7 following her first State of the State address. Facing an estimated $600 million revenue shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, the budget will be the most important single matter facing lawmakers in 2011.
As they begin work on the budget and other legislative initiatives, we invited the top leadership in each house to discuss the upcoming session: Speaker of the House Kris Steele, Republican from Shawnee; House Minority Leader Scott Inman, Democrat from Del City; Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, Republican from Sapulpa; and Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice, Democrat from Oklahoma City.
Interestingly, all four leaders were favorably disposed toward Governor Fallin's budget, which cuts state agencies 5% while delivering smaller budget cuts (3%) to education, public safety and health care. In addition, the governor's budget would consolidate some agencies in an attempt to save the state money and create greater efficiencies. Overall, our guests considered it a good framework from which to begin the arduous work of crafting the state budget.
While it's clear that tax increases (and possibly other revenue enhancements, such as fees) are off the table for consideration, leaders from both houses and both parties indicated that a review of the state's tax credits and incentives is very much a priority. Estimates place the amount of annual tax credits and incentives at about $6 Billion, which is approximately the same size as the entire state budget. Governor Fallin announced in her inaugural address that tax credits that provide jobs will stay, those that don't will be cut. It's a proposition that is already gaining traction as a way to trim the state budget. By one estimate approximately $2 Billion of those credits and incentives have not created any jobs. So, it's bound to get interesting.
In addition to the budget, we discussed redistricting, education reform (especially the majority's effort to shift supervision and control of the State Department of Education from the State Board of Education to the State Superintendent), immigration reform, and the possible restructuring of CompSource. The program is notable for the amount of civility and agreement between the leadership. There will be disagreements along the way, to be sure, but our guests showed a willingness to get along to find workable solutions to the state's problems. That's something that should not be discounted in today's often harsh political environment.
Coming the week after we discussed legislative issues on our Capitol Reporters Roundtable, this program provides valuable insight into the key issues that the legislature will debate over the next four months and the people who will be directing that debate. I invite you to invest less than an hour and watch both programs to get a preliminary view of the new legislative session. We will be following up with reporters and legislators as the session unfolds. The kind of discussion you see on Oklahoma Forum is another way we deliver open, transparent government to the people of Oklahoma. Keep watching and let us know what topics you'd like to see us address in the weeks ahead.
Until next time,
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