Plan in Progress

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House plans to come back into special session on Monday afternoon to consider new appropriations measures.

In the meantime, the House Republican caucus continues to meet to discuss each and every part of the plan. The caucus met two times this week for four to five hours each time discussing how we can address the governor’s call while remaining true to our conservative principals and funding core state services.

I along with House leadership have been working behind the scenes and late into the night coming up with a plan that addresses most of the governor’s call. The first item is to fill a $215 million revenue hole left after the state Supreme Court struck down the Smoking Cessation Act of 2015. The revenue would have gone primarily to three healthcare agencies. Another item is to increase teacher pay. Overall, the governor has asked the Legislature to restructure the budget process.

The plan may change by the time you read this, but we are still discussing raising the cigarette tax and an increase in gross production tax. Other ideas also are still being vetted. While we’ve raised gross production tax on legacy wells last year, many House Republicans think there is still room to negotiate.

My main priority is keeping our rural hospitals and nursing homes open and that our children and senior adults who need services receive them. Those are the most vulnerable, and that is my No. 1 priority.

House leadership is talking Thursday and Friday with the governor and the Senate about healthcare and teacher pay. I will discuss in future columns more details of the plan once an agreement is reached. The plan must be one that will pass the House and the Senate and be agreed upon by the governor.

It takes both parties and both chambers and the executive branch to make this happen. I’ve asked my fellow lawmakers to please set aside politics, political ambition and political grandstanding so we can do what is right for the state of Oklahoma. I’ve encouraged them to be statesmen and stateswomen and do what our constituents hired us to do and fix the immediate problems with our healthcare issues and teacher pay.

I want to thank each person from my district who has taken the time to call or email or reach out to me on Facebook. I read each suggestion, idea and thought. They give me a great idea of what people in my district want so I can articulate that to the speaker and our leadership team.

I ask for your prayers during this tumultuous time. But, I am optimistic we will strike an agreed-upon plan and move Oklahoma forward.

In closing, I want to turn my focus for a moment to the horrific massacre our nation experienced last Sunday in Las Vegas. Evil struck down and killed nearly 60 Americans and injured over 500 people. I’m thankful for the law enforcement and first responders and the everyday heroes who put themselves between people they didn’t even know and bullets, sacrificing themselves to protect their fellow man. The heroism exemplified shows to all of us and the world that America can come together. I ask for continued prayer for the families of those who lost their lives and for the injured victims as well as for those who were in the crowd and still reeling from the trauma of this tragedy.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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House in Recess for Now

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House convened in special session this week, but has recessed until a budget agreement can be reached. Recessing allows budget negotiations to continue without the $30,000 per day price tag attached to special session.

The first two days of the session, the House did everything constitutionally allowed. The state Constitution requires first, second and third reading of bills to be conducted on separate days before they are passed to the opposite chamber. So, on day one, we first-read the 142 House bills filed for special session and the two House joint resolutions. The second day we read the bills and resolutions a second time.

House leadership was prepared to come in on day three and vote for a cigarette tax increase of $1.50 to help fill the budget hole left when the state Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the Smoking Cessation Act of 2017. This would have ensured health care agencies could continue without worry of cuts to their budgets this fiscal year. Yet, we had no indication that House Democrats were prepared to deliver the votes needed on this measure.

To raise any revenue requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. That is 76 votes in the House, which has only 72 Republicans currently. Without support from the opposite party, House leadership deemed it would be best to recess until a plan can be achieved that has the Senate and the governor’s support. This allows us to continue negotiating but at no cost to the taxpayer.

Let me be clear: I am not in favor of raising taxes, but in the case of the cigarette tax, more than 61 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Oklahomans polled have said they want this for health care. I’ve received calls about cutting government spending, and our plan will include targeted cuts. There are always ways to find efficiencies and strip duplicate even triplicate services out of agency budgets. To do this, though, we will need to aggressively audit agency budgets. We need to make sure government works for us and not the other way around.

In addition to the cigarette tax, House leadership has been willing to consider all other options to address the state budget hole. These include examining other tax incentives and increasing the gross production tax (GPT). Every one of these options has been thoroughly discussed and vetted, but we just do not have enough votes in the Republican Caucus to move on these issues. This requires give and take on both sides.

When I answered the call to serve in state government, I knew it would require me to be a statesman – to make tough calls that others may not be willing to make, sometimes being willing to compromise. Not everyone will agree with the plan to raise this cigarette tax. I don’t always agree with those I love, even my wonderful wife, Nellie, but sometimes the outcomes – in this case keeping our rural hospitals and nursing homes and ensuring our seniors and disabled adults receive services – are more important than the method.

The three agencies affected by the current budget hole – the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services – assured the Legislature in writing weeks ago that they could make it at least until the end of the calendar year if not months longer on current appropriations. This gives us time to develop the right plan while saving the taxpayer the money it costs for special session.

In any case, I was elected by the voters in my district, and that is who I work for. I don’t work for lobbyists or other interest groups. I work for you.

For now, the House stands in recess until a budget plan can be agreed upon by the House the Senate and the governor. If I have to work 24/7 and sleep in my office until that agreement is secured, I will do just that.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Special Session Planned

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The governor this week announced plans to call a special legislative session beginning Sept. 25 in order for the Legislature to adjust the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

Frankly, I’m disappointed in the governor’s rush. It’s irresponsible and reckless to rush into a session that will cost taxpayers more than $22,000 a day every day we are in session on the House side alone, when (a) the Oklahoma Supreme Court has yet to rule on a final case that could affect the state budget; and (b) no agreement is in place between House Republicans and Democrats and the state Senate on how to re-allocate state funds. We face the same impasse we faced in session.

The governor announced her plans against advice from House leadership.

The need for a special session springs from the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month against the Smoking Cessation Act of 2017. The act would have placed a $1.50 fee on a package of cigarettes to promote efforts to get smokers to stop. Money from the fee – about $215 million – would have gone to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Department of Human Services.

But the truth is we have time before a special session is necessary. The agencies affected have state allocations to get them through until at least year’s end. But instead of waiting and being prudent, the governor and House Democrats have posed $1 billion in tax increases in order to plug the $215 million hole. That plan will never make it through the House.

Instead, House Speaker Charles McCall has announced that the original cigarette tax will be proposed again in special session. It is the only tax increase Oklahomans overall have said they would support.

If the plan fails, it will be put to a vote of the people and House Democrats can answer to why cuts were necessary to core government services.

House leaders and Republicans have met frequently to explore all budget options. At the end of the day, we must adopt something that cuts waste, increases efficiencies and yet still funds core government services and protects our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

I believe in the American and the Oklahoma dream, which includes a conservative and efficient government, but one which funds core functions of government. This takes working across all lines – Republican, Democrat, House, Senate, Legislative and Executive. We must all come together behind one goal – that goal is to preserve the Oklahoma standard. This calls for statesmen and stateswomen, those who will not grandstand but will make the hard decisions that need to be made.

I was hired to do a job, and I will do just that. That job, though, does not include voting for a $1 billion worth of tax increases. Of that you can be assured.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Responding to Increased Oil Field Traffic

OKLAHOMA CITY – First, let me say I’m thankful for the boom in our economy brought by the recent increased activity in The STACK oil play near Kingfisher. I appreciate the increased sales and income tax this is creating. I’m thankful for what this will mean to our local, county and state economy and the resulting benefits to the people in my district.

That said, there have been eight fatality accidents recently involving commercial motor vehicles: three in Kingfisher County, two in Blaine County and three in Canadian County. Investigations are still open on many of these. Whether these were caused by drivers who just are unfamiliar with our roads, by aggressive or inattentive driving or overweight trucks remains to be seen. Whatever the cause, I cannot and will not stand for the lives of our residents being put in danger.

In addition, this increased traffic and the weight in these larger trucks is putting a toll on our city, county and state roads and bridges. I’m concerned about the cost to our municipal and county budgets. With budgets being strained the past few years, we need to do all we can to protect our local and state dollars.

To address my concerns and those expressed to me by my constituents, I met recently with Capt. Brad Shepherd, Commander of Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and Troop J. I’ve also met with local police and our county sheriffs. Their job is to protect the public from aggressive or inattentive drivers as well as to protect our roads and bridges from overweight trucks. They’re doing a good job. Capt. Shepherd showed me a list of responses the OHP is taking to address the increased traffic.

These include an education-through-enforcement campaign in which commercial motor vehicle drivers are contacted by the OHP on traffic violations, which leads to offering up education programs to the company for which they work.  The drivers are educated on state statute if vehicles are overweight or if drivers exhibit aggression or other behaviors likely to cause accidents. These safety education programs also are offered to local community civic groups in which talks are held to discuss defensive driving practices for local residents. The OHP also has adjusted manpower to peak traffic hours and moved other troops into the area to assist in this matter. I’m thankful for these efforts, and I’ve told all law enforcement that I’ve got their backs as they pursue these efforts.

I appreciate all of the calls and emails I’ve received on this and other issues. I would encourage those who have not yet reached out to me directly but have voiced a public outcry to try a phone call or an email to my office. We can accomplish quite a bit if we can first communicate. 

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

 

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What Comes Next: The Supreme Court’s Decision

by Rep. Mike Sanders

As you have probably heard by now, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the $1.50 per pack cigarette fee the Oklahoma Legislature passed in May. The high court is a co-equal branch of government, and the justices acted in accordance with the state constitution. People may differ on decisions that were made, but at the end of the day, as Oklahomans, we clearly support the rule of law and the system we hold dear.

By way of background, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 845 – also known as the Smoking Cessation Act of 2017 – in the final days of the legislative session this year. This bill set up a framework with the majority of the money generated going into a newly created Health Care Enhancement Fund. SB 845 was intended to reduce tobacco consumption and lessen health-related costs from tobacco-induced illnesses, and it would have generated more than $200 million. 

Tobacco companies, unsurprisingly, challenged the measure because it would have affected their profit margins.

So where do we go from here?

I know some of you may be nervous and wondering what this all means for rural hospitals and health care providers. Rest assured, the Speaker of the House and the Chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee have met with the Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services. All three agencies have given House leadership their word that they can sustain services for several months.

Accordingly, this allows the Legislature to carefully consider our best course of action. Before we can choose the most efficient and effective path forward, we must know exactly what we’re dealing with. There are currently two other cases before the Supreme Court that could also impact the state’s bottom line. Once the court rules on those issues, we’ll have much more clarity as to what the state faces. 

Additionally, Oklahoma’s economy is rebounding. Sales tax receipts and income tax are both on the rise, and we have about $83 million in an unexpected carryover from Fiscal Year 2017. These are great signs.  All of these facts will cushion the hole and allow the Speaker time to talk with Gov. Mary Fallin and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate before finalizing a plan. There will be no knee-jerk reactions.

I can promise you one thing for sure: the Oklahoma Legislature will not leave these three affected agencies in the lurch. Lawmakers do not want to see the residents of this great state lose access to their health care, and I vow to fight for Oklahomans every step of the way. 

 

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Representatives to Make a Stop at ENDUI Checkpoint

OKLAHOMA CITY – A group of republican state representatives are set to join the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department and the Edmond Police Department at an ENDUI checkpoint Friday.

ENDUI checkpoints stop motorists and check for drivers who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. More than a quarter of Oklahoma’s traffic fatalities involve alcohol.

House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, Rep. Scott Biggs, Rep. Mike Osburn, Rep. Rhonda Baker, Rep. John Paul Jordan, Rep. John Pfeifer, and Rep. Randy Worthen will meet the law enforcement officers at an undisclosed ENDUI checkpoint location in Edmond.

“Driving under the influence is one of the most lethal yet preventable things humans do,” Biggs said. “As representatives, we feel fortunate to have this opportunity to see how ENDUI, a lifesaving program, works in the field.” 

The representatives also want to use this opportunity to let law enforcement officers know that the legislature is behind them.

“Our friends at OHP and law enforcement officers across the state work tirelessly to ensure that Oklahoma roads are as safe as possible,” Sanders said. “As lawmakers, we can fund programs like ENDUI all day long, but without trained law enforcement officers, these programs won’t work. The success of ENDUI is a testament to the professionalism and leadership of our state’s law enforcement officers.”

The Friday checkpoint will also mark a first for collaboration as the Edmond Police Department is scheduled to join the Oklahoma Highway Patrol for their first ENDUI checkpoint.

“The Edmond police department is made up of officers that just want to protect their community,” said Rep. Mike Osburn, R- Edmond. “I’m not surprised to learn that they are participating in this worthwhile program, and I look forward to seeing them out there.”

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Back to School

By Rep. Mike Sanders

It’s that time of year when yellow buses will soon take to the streets and young people will be riding their bikes and walking to school. I urge drivers to be on extra alert and observe our school zone speed limits.

I want to extend a special thank you to our teachers who will soon face classrooms full of fresh, new faces. So many of our teachers go above and beyond for their students, not only teaching them how to read and do math, how to think scientifically or about the history of our nation and state, but they care and love their students. Outside of a parent, a teacher is probably the person that has the next greatest influence on the life of a child. I remember fondly the great teachers who encouraged me in my studies and taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be – even majority leader of the House of Representatives. I owe so much of what I am today to great teachers.

I also want to thank our school administrators, who’ve worked throughout the summer to hire great teachers to fill our classrooms, to make sure programs, materials and facilities are up to date and ready for students and staff to return for the school year. Many of our administrators fill in doing other jobs around the school buildings, yet these extra duties may go unnoticed. I want to say thank you for all of the work that you do to make sure young people are prepared for the next level of learning and for life after school.

Education is such an important building block for society as a whole. We’re not just teaching our children their ABCs and their numbers. We’re teaching them how to succeed in future jobs and how to contribute positively back to society. We’re training up the next generation of teachers, doctors, police officers, construction workers, bankers and lawmakers, all of the people who make our communities work. We’re teaching them how to think critically and solve problems, how to get along with others and to share.

At the Legislature, I’ll continue to work on behalf of our students, parents, teachers and administrators to ensure our schools have regulations and accountability measures that don’t stymie their work but that provide parents and taxpayers with the transparency needed. I’ll also continue to fight for higher teacher pay.

On a final note, when you’re picking up school supplies, get a few extra items or even a gift card or two to share with your child’s teacher. This small act of kindness will be appreciated more than you know.

I’m excited about this new school year and all the promise it holds. Again, I want to thank our teachers and administrators for their selfless sacrifices for our kids. I appreciate all you do.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

 

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Honoring a True Public Servant

By Rep. Mike Sanders

After nine years as a representative – four of those spent as the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation – I’ve had plenty of opportunity to interact with Gary Ridley.

First, I knew him as Oklahoman’s transportation secretary, then as a mentor and finally as a personal friend. I’ve worked with him plenty of times on projects to improve the roads and bridges in my district and throughout the state.

Secretary Ridley is the perfect example of a public servant, a statesman and a leader. He quickly grasps a problem and goes about working the solution – always with an eye for what will be in the best interest of the state overall, not just his department. He’s more than willing to listen respectfully to others, no matter whom they are, and accept input. At the same time, he’s always moving forward. Plus, he doesn’t care who gets the credit, only that the state gets served.

It is through his leadership that the state’s 8-year roads and bridges plan has remained on track even while various Legislatures have continually tried to raid transportation funding. It is also under his leadership that the state’s more than 3,000 structurally deficient bridges have been repaired along with constant work to improve the state’s network of rural roads.

Yet, Secretary Ridley is a team player. He has never put personal gain ahead of the needs of the state. He has always been willing to give up funding for other agencies, such as education, healthcare or public safety, but only as long as those decisions didn’t completely stall transportation. Transportation, after all is really the backbone of economic development, which in turn helps fund all of the services residents value in a state.

In the years since I first met Secretary Ridley, I became a huge admirer of his dedication to his beloved state and his example to others of how to be a true leader. When his retirement was announced in early June, I took it with a heavy heart. I know Transportation Director Mike Patterson will make an excellent secretary, carrying on the legacy of statesmanship that Secretary Ridley leaves, but Secretary Ridley will be greatly missed. In his more than 48 years at the Department of Transportation, he always put the future of Oklahoma at the forefront. We would all be so much better served if all public leaders followed his example.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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The Fourth

By Rep. Mike Sanders 

Between the fireworks, the parades and family gatherings in the park, sometimes it’s hard to think about what that 1776 July 4 must have been like.

First, I think about how tense the scene must have been, the independence of a new nation hanging in the balance. Breaking from the tyranny of an old master was necessary, but it must have been bittersweet. England was a known empire builder, a protector and the fatherland of most of the American colonists. To declare independence would mean years more of war, being cut off from supplies from home, in many instances being at odds with neighbors and friends, even family members.

As a state lawmaker, I’ve been in tense negotiations before – plenty of times. We argue over things that in the moment seem monumental – how to fund almost 100 state agencies in a recession, for instance. Still, I’ve never felt like I was risking my life or the lives of all of those I love and care for when I author or argue a bill. Sometimes I’ve felt the federal government is tyrannical in its demands, but I’ve never faced it sending troops to my door for my defiance.

Sometimes I’m amazed that 56 men could come to such an agreement. I don’t know if this could be done today. We had a hard time getting 56 votes on any major piece of legislation this year.

Yet, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress of the United States of America approved the final wording for the Declaration of Independence. After several days of what I’m imagining were very heated arguments and debates, the last i was dotted and the last t crossed. The letter declaring independence from tyranny was officially adopted.

I wonder how many people remember that independence from England actually was officially declared on July 2, 1776. The Declaration wasn’t even signed until Aug. 2, and the letter sent in November. The Constitution was signed in September. Yet we celebrate July 4 as our independence day. Sometimes I think our founding fathers picked this date because of the momentousness of being able to come to that final agreement. The first Continental Congress had met a year and a half before. War had already been raging in the colonies since April 1775. The draft of the declaration had been in the works for almost a month. And here was the finished work, agreed to on the future blood that would be spilled over its words.

Liberty, freedom, independence – none are free; none are cheap.

I hope wherever you are this July 4 you’ll remember those who agreed to the final version of the Declaration of Independence, and the divine help they must have received in coming to this agreement. It has kept U.S. citizens free for more than 240 years. Happy July 4!

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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The Way Forward

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This year, with so many new members and so many widely differing beliefs about what should and should not be funded by state government, the budget process was challenging.

Making it more difficult were the constantly shifting demands of the minority leader and his caucus. Believing they had just enough power in the House to stall budget negotiations indefinitely, they rejected every Republicans proposal to balance the budget. These included raising the gross production tax on oil and gas to 4, 4.5 even 5 percent. Republicans also agreed to six out of seven items in the Democrats’ budget plan. Each offer was left on the table.

Instead of being a statesman and a consensus builder – choosing to do what was best for the state instead of what was politically expedient for him individually – the minority leader over-kicked his punt coverage. Knowing we would not be able to rely on help to put the state on sound financial footing, the speaker of the House and me, along with other House leaders, turned to other measures to shore up core services demanded by our citizens, ones which we could pass without minority support.

We want to be able to work across the aisle, embracing all ideas that will make Oklahoma a stronger, better state – one that is open for business and economic growth and activity, one where personal freedoms are protected and the needs of citizens met. After several years of obstructionist tactics, however, it is clear we must move forward in developing an innovative and conservative policy agenda on which to build, regardless of whether theDemocrats join us.

To develop this agenda for implementation during the 2018 legislative session, House leadership recently announced it will hold a series of House Republican Leadership Policy Working Groups. I will help lead these groups. Our goal is to reduce government waste and increase efficiencies in spending, enhance personal freedom and grow economic opportunities for Oklahomans. We will study ways to rid agencies of duplicative services and help them run more efficiently; finding ways to better support but reform spending for transportation, public safety, education, healthcare and mental health. Members will participate in these groups voluntarily and will not be paid per diem or reimbursed for mileage. This won’t be on the taxpayer’s dime.

Bottom line is we need to restructure our state budget, moving more money from off-the-top appropriations to theGeneral Revenue Fund. We also need to take a more detailed look at each tax credit and deduction we offer and shed those that don’t benefit the state. We need to streamline the process by which we arrive at a balanced budget. We can’t do things the way they’ve always been done.

We started the changes this year, holding public hearings at the beginning of session for five state agencies that receive almost 80 percent of state appropriations. Each representative also rotated through various appropriation & budget subcommittees to get a better grasp of agency funding requests. These working groups will help us move even further forward next year.

To wrap up the highlights of our state budget for fiscal year 2018, I wanted to include a note about funding for public safety and corrections. Public safety received almost $13 million more this year than last, a 2.1 percent increase. Under this umbrella, the Department of Corrections received more than $4.5 million above last year. Keeping the public safe is one of the most important functions of government.  This money will mean our prisons can be better staffed, increasing safety for both the public and corrections’ officers, and our Highway Patrol troopers can get back to patrolling our roads without the threat of furloughs or mileage caps.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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