Written by Dick Pryor on Friday May 20, 2011
This week on Oklahoma Forum we discuss the legislative session with longtime Capitol reporter/analysts M. Scott Carter, Capitol Reporter for The Journal Record; Pat McGuigan, Editor of The City Sentinel and reporter for CapitolBeatOK.com; and Arnold Hamilton, Editor of The Oklahoma Observer.
Obviously, the 2012 budget, and the way lawmakers and the governor crafted it to bring the numbers into balance with a $500 million hole, was the main topic of discussion. Overall, changes in Oklahoma's corrections system was viewed as one of the most significant accomplishments. Likewise, giving the Department of Corrections a relatively small funding cut was a plus, to prevent creating a public safety crisis by furloughing guards and perhaps being forced into releasing prisoners.
One of the major shifts in this year's budget agreement was the approach to funding education. As Pat McGuigan pointed out, negotiators went where the money was, in agreeing to cut 4.1% from the common education budget, 5.8% from higher education and 5.8% from the funding for CareerTech. All told, the cuts to Oklahoma's education system totalled around $200 million. There were also several changes in education policy and procedures that will significantly revise the relationships between schools and teachers and the the way the State Department of Education is run, while it's still unclear how the moves will affect student achievement.
Since any tax increases were ruled out of order by the governor and legislative leaders from the first day of the session, there was a lot of talk about reviewing and revising Oklahoma's tax credits and incentives to provide additional funding. As you'll hear, the conservative member of our panel (McGuigan) and the progressive member (Hamilton), agreed on this issue: both believe the state spends too much and that a big part of that "excess" spending is centered on tax breaks. As they pointed out, there was interest in making a thorough review and eliminating those tax credits and incentives that don't work (Governor Fallin supported this approach from her first day in office), but nothing was done. In fact, a couple of incentives were revived. It's clear that this is going to be a big issue in the coming months and the next legislative session.
Our guests also evaluated how the legislature did overall, how Republicans handled their huge majorities in both houses, and how Democrats handled their new position of being a diminished minority. But, I will save the explanation of that for the program, which airs at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. It is also repeated on OETA Okla (check listings on our website) and is available worldwide online.
We take pride in being your source for open and transparent government in Oklahoma. And, this week's program is another way we do that. As we taped the show, the legislature was planning on adjourning on Friday, May 20, which would be one week ahead of the legally-required time for Sine Die Adjournment. However, it appears legislators will likely come back next week to do some clean up, before dropping the final gavel on this year's session.
So, after taking next week off for the Memorial Day weekend, Oklahoma Forum will return on June 5 with another Capitol Reporters Roundtable to discuss specific legislation and the final frantic days of this year's session.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, M. Scott Carter, Patrick McGuigan, and Arnold Hamilton)
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