A Senate committee this week advanced legislation to establish a new retirement system for state employees hired beginning Nov. 1, 2015. The Legislature in recent years has streamlined government, reduced waste, and approved a number of reform proposals to strengthen our state’s fiscal foundation. Legislation providing the next generation of state employees with a modern retirement system may be the most important step we can take to assure our long-term fiscal health.
This proposal would help us reduce our $11 billion pension liability, and would also make state employee retirement packages more competitive with private sector plans. A modern pension system will allow employees to take their retirement plan with them if they choose, and enable greater choice in how their contributions are invested. I want to ensure that state government keeps its promises to current employees, which is why the proposal will only apply to future state employees.
The management of Oklahoma’s long-term pension liability is particularly important as we look to the example of other states. Unsustainable pension systems have directly resulted in states like Illinois raising their taxes to such heights that employers are leaving the state. By adopting this legislation, we can assure a more stable future for state government.
A bill that would authorize a bond to fund desperately needed repairs to the State Capitol building was also approved by a Senate committee this week. Hopefully, this proposal quickly makes its way through the legislative process and is signed by the governor, so we can take advantage of low rates and current material costs. The Capitol is an irreplaceable asset, and we can’t wait any longer to fix it. With every passing month, the price tag for repairs rises higher.
The State Capitol is in many ways a crumbling building. For years now, the state has been forced to erect temporary barriers around the exterior, to protect tourists and workers from falling pieces of limestone. The interior plumbing is a health hazard, and extensive water damage can be seen throughout the building.
One of our most important responsibilities as lawmakers is to take care of the state’s assets. The State Capitol is not only one of our most valuable and visible assets, it’s the people’s building and a piece of living history. We want the Capitol to be a place where people can comfortably and safely participate in the business of government. Oklahomans should be able to take pride in their Capitol building. The approval of a bond will allow us to undertake a renovation that will make the building useful and usable for another century.
I was pleased a Senate committee this week approved my bill to strengthen regulations on controlled substances in nursing homes. This legislation will help us ensure these drugs are used for their intended purpose.
A committee also approved my bill to limit the amount telecommunications providers can be reimbursed through the Lifeline Fund. The Lifeline Program, widely known as ‘Obama phones’, provides phone service for qualifying low-income individuals. The program, however, has been rife with fraud and waste. Last year, two Oklahoma companies agreed to pay significant penalties resulting from an FCC investigation related to their participation in the program. The FCC found the two companies failed to adequately document individuals enrolled in the program, resulting in numerous participants receiving duplicate wireless or landline services. Oklahoma has no choice but to participate in the program, so it is important that we do everything we can to limit the potential for fraud.