2016 Senate Summation – Week 4


February 25, 2016

 BUDGET and TAXES

  • This week was the deadline for Senate bills to make it out of committee to the full Senate. Among the measures headed to the Senate are a variety of options to help us deal with the $1.3 billion budget crisis
  • The Senate Republican Caucus (SRC) is taking a look at a variety of tax reforms, including eliminating tax credits and incentives that aren’t creating jobs but. The state offers approximately $1.7 billion in incentives and credits annually. The SRC is committed to examining tax credits and incentives to eliminate those that aren’t working. The people expect lawmakers to continually evaluate the effectiveness and cost of all government programs.
  • Several measures dealing with apportionment reform made it out of committee. For this budget year and for future years, we need to address the structural budget problems to provide lawmakers greater flexibility and control of all revenue collected by the state.
  • The Governor has stated her opposition to the income tax cut roll back. The House Speaker and the Pro Tem also have both indicated such an effort is unlikely to garner 3/4ths vote required. We have to consider a variety of options to close the $1.3 billion budget hole, but let’s first look at cost-savings, consolidation of agencies and services, and eliminating underperforming tax credits/incentives. We should avoid increasing the tax bill of hard-working Oklahoma families, especially at a time when the oil/gas industry and related sectors are shedding jobs.
  • The budget crisis presents an opportunity to set spending priorities and deliver on our promise of a smaller, more efficient and less intrusive government. As long as there are inefficient and duplicative state programs, there’s work to be done to ensure government is operating as lean and efficient as possible.

EDUCATION

  • Education is a top priority for the Senate Republican Caucus, even during challenging budget times. The SRC has taken great strides to protect common education and higher education from severe budget cuts.
  • It’s important to look at the big picture when you’re talking about education funding, however. Since 2009 education has seen an increase of nearly $1 billion in funding (includes all appropriated and non-appropriated revenue streams that fund education). Meanwhile, the growth in non-teaching staff has steadily outpaced the growth of student population. Non-teaching staff has grown 28 percent while student population grew 10 percent, from 1992-2009.
  • ELIMINATING END OF INSTRUCTION (EOI) TESTS: SB 1170 by Sen. Ford passed out of the Education Committee with unanimous, bipartisan support. The bill provides more local control to school districts while eliminating the concerns of parents and teachers of too many mandated tests. It calls for each school district to certify that graduating high school students have mastered curriculum requirements. Eliminating EOIs allows teachers and students to focus on classroom work and not end of year exams. Plus, ending EOIs could save millions of dollars.
  • TEACHER AND LEADER EFFECTIVENESS: The Senate unanimously passed SB 1350 by Sen. Ford. The measure provides more local control by allowing school districts to determine the teacher evaluation models to use. Providing professional development and leadership growth opportunities for teachers will in turn lead to improved student outcomes.

TRANPORTATION

  • Decades of mismanagement by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate led to years of underfunding for roads and bridges. For years, ODOT’s annual appropriation was stagnating at $200 million, regardless of the state of the economy or our transportation system.
  • Good roads and bridges are important to protect public safety, but they are also vital to economic development.
  • Thanks to the bold leadership of previous Senate Republicans, the state has put $2 billion toward state roads and $1 billion toward county roads since 2006.
  • We have to examine all our options to help fill the $1.3 billion budget hole. The Senate is considering reforms that maintain stable funding levels for ODOT to protect the gains made in transportation funding while freeing up additional dollars to help fill the budget gap.


AGENCY CONSOLIDATION:  the full Senate passed SB 1570 by Sen. Jolley, which transfers the Will Rogers Memorial Museum to be overseen by the Oklahoma Historical Society. The consolidation will save the state money, while also providing the expertise and resources of the Historical Society to enhance the development of the museum. Rogers’ descendants have told the Tulsa World the family strongly endorses the move.

TERM LIMITS FOR STATEWIDE ELECTED OFFICIALS: SJR 45 by Sen. Schulz would let voters decide if most statewide elected officers should serve longer terms. If passed by the voters, the measure would let Lt. Gov, Auditor, AG, Treasurer, Labor Commissioner, Insurance Commissioner, and state Superintendent serve up to 12 years in office. Longer tenures for secondary office holders would allow for more efficient and effective administrations. If officers are incompetent or corrupt, the officers could still be defeated at the ballot box.

FIGHTING EPA OVERREACH:  The Senate Rules Committee passed SB 1379 by Sen. Treat, which will assist the state in future legal fights over the Clean Power Plan, which is an unlawful attempt by the Obama administration to take control over electric power systems in the states.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE:  Domestic violence (DV) is a terrible problem in Oklahoma; we rank 3rd in the nation for women killed by men in DV situations. Forty-one percent of homicides in Oklahoma are linked to DV. SB 1491 by Sen. Marlatt changes the law so that two conviction of DV establishes a pattern of physical abuse, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000. Current law calls for three DV incidents in 12 months before a pattern of physical abuse is met. DV is an escalating crime and the potential for death goes up exponentially with every incident. SB 1492 would help save lives by stopping DV offenders sooner.

 

 

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