Join Me in Celebrating National Hunting and Fishing Day

OKLAHOMA CITY – As a House Co-Chair of the Oklahoma Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, and as a member of the 48-state National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses network, I am honored to join like-minded sportsmen-legislators from across the nation in celebrating the 44th National Hunting and Fishing Day on Saturday, September 24.

In celebrating this day, we recognize the time-honored traditions of hunting and angling, as well as the historical and current contributions of the original conservationists – hunters and anglers – in supporting sound, science-based fish and wildlife conservation.

Through purchasing licenses, tags and waterfowl stamps, and by paying excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, motorboat fuel, and other hunting and fishing equipment, sportsmen and women drive conservation funding in the United States. Collectively, these funding sources constitute the American System of Conservation Funding (System), a completely unique “user pays – public benefits” System. Authorized in 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Act, and later the Dingell-Johnson Act in 1950 and the Wallop-Breaux Amendment in 1984, provide funds from the aforementioned excise tax revenue to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Last year alone, Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson combined contributed $25,729,133, while hunting and fishing licenses brought an additional $17,923,566 to fund conservation efforts in the state.

All Oklahomans benefit from these monies through improved access to public lands, public shooting facilities, improved water quality, habitat restoration, fish and wildlife research (game and non-game), private and public habitat management, hunter education, angler access area construction, and numerous other Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation projects funded through this System. 

I am proud to recognize the contributions of the state’s sportsmen and women to conservation and public access. From the outstanding habitat and hunting opportunities for waterfowl and dove at the Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area, to the newly expanded boat ramp on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees near Grove Oklahoma, which has now launched two Bassmater Classics in the state, Oklahoma’s sportsmen and sportswomen have directly contributed to the abundant fish and wildlife populations we have today, as well as our vibrant outdoor economy.

In addition, I want to thank the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for their tireless efforts to support hunting, angling, recreational shooting and trapping in our great state.

Today we celebrate the many and varied benefits that hunting and angling provide for the Sooner State. Enjoy this special occasion and the vast opportunities to hunt and fish in Oklahoma. The outdoor traditions of hunting and angling should not be taken for granted, and opportunities to hunt and fish should continue to be abundantly available for future generations.

More information on National Hunting and Fishing Day is available at www.NHFDay.org or on the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation website at http://sportsmenslink.org/policies/federal/ascf.

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Interim Studies Affect Legislation/Budget

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Interim studies have started at the Capitol. The first two focused on building and roofing contractor, subcontractor and consumer issues. In the next few weeks, there will be studies on lease revenue bonds, agency streamlining, outstanding debt owed to state agencies, a review of the state’s pension system and others.

Some of these titles might seem of little interest to the average person. When you consider, however, that each measure could potentially have an impact on the state budget – which could mean greater savings to taxpayers and more funding for core government services, then they start to sound more important.

On Sept. 14, I will co-sponsor an interim study that deals with funding for juvenile detention centers. Earlier this year, the Office of Juvenile Affairs threatened to close several regional juvenile detention centers in the state, saying the agency didn’t have the money to continue operations after changing their funding formula.

I and other lawmakers found out about the proposal in time to stop it. I would welcome the day we had no further need for such centers, but unfortunately the fact is sometimes youth break the laws in a significant enough way that we owe it to the rest of society to detain them until they can be rehabilitated.

Keeping our small, regional juvenile detention centers open keeps these youth closer to their families and provides our rural communities with needed job opportunities.

During the upcoming study, I and the other legislators will examine OJA’s funding formula to help determine potential savings as well as ways the state can possibly offer better funding solutions for the agency as they continue their work.

The regular legislative session is so jam-packed with reading numerous bills, keeping track of changes as each vote takes place, preparing for and attending committee meetings, and meeting with numerous concerned parties, it’s sometimes hard to study an issue as thoroughly as we’d like. Interim studies give us time to really delve into topics and hear from constituents and consumers as well as industry or agency experts. They give us a chance to study an issue from all sides to see the consequences of legislation on all populations. Many budget decisions are made in this interimstudy period. Many belief systems are formed or reinforced. It’s an important time for lawmakers, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to participate on issues that have great impact for my district.

To see a calendar of interim studies by committee, click the link below, then select to view by the week or month:http://www.okhouse.gov/Committees/MeetingNotices.aspx

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

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Protecting Water Resources a Priority

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Chiefs of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, the city of Oklahoma City and the state reached what many are calling an historic agreement last week over access rights to water from Sardis Lake in Southeastern Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board on Friday approved the settlement and the Oklahoma City Council followed suit on Tuesday, but it still needs the approval of each of the tribal governments, theWater Utility Trust, the governor, the state attorney general and the U.S. Congress, as well as the signature of the president.

While this agreement doesn’t affect people in District 59, it does remind me of the near draining of Canton Lake in 2013 to quench the needs of Oklahoma City, which owns the water rights to the lake.

The fight over Lake Sardis has been a long one and had the potential to be even longer and more costly if it continued to be fought in court.

The two First Nations filed suit in 2011 over Oklahoma City’s plan to transfer water from Sardis Lake, saying they owned the water rights as part of the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek signed in 1830. The state argued a pact signed in 1866 negated the terms of the earlier treaty and gave the water resources board the right to allocate the water.

What is significant is that major entities were able to come to an agreement that promises to help meet the future needs of Oklahoma City and the metro area while maintaining water levels at Sardis Lake. This water is an important resource for Southeastern Oklahoma for recreation and economic development as well as conservation and to take care of the needs of area residents. The settlement gives the tribes – on whose land the water is located – a voice in what happens to the water going forward.

For Canton Lake, 30,000 acre feet of water was released to Oklahoma City in 2013. This hampered local conservation and recreation efforts and was a concern to the 200,000 local residents that rely on the lake as a water supply. It has taken three years to get water levels to come back to normal. I’ll be looking closely at the Sardis agreement to see how I can work to similarly protect Canton Lake in the future.

There are some things in the Sardis Lake agreement that bear some close scrutiny by lawmakers. Language in the agreement establishes a commission to evaluate and govern any possible future watersales to out-of-state interests. This has long been prohibited and can only be sanctioned by the Legislature. It’s important that we maintain this moratorium.

Some would argue that water is more important than oil at this point in our nation. It’s certainly a more costly resource. It must be protected for the benefit of our state residents now and in the future.

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

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Area Rural Fire Departments Receive Operational Assistance Grants

Rural fire departments across the state – including 20 in House District 59 – are receiving Oklahoma Operational Assistance Grants in the amount of $3,817.42 to assist with expenses such as firefighting equipment maintenance and purchases, insurance premiums and personal protective equipment.

This year’s funding is being provided to 861 fire departments across the state that serve communities with populations of less than 10,000.  The funds will be sent to fire departments electronically, as required by law, and made in two payments of $1,908.71 this year.  These funds are appropriated by the state legislature, authorized by Governor Fallin and administered by Oklahoma Forestry Services.  The operational grant funds have been awarded to the state’s rural fire departments since the 1980’s with the intention to help them with the cost of day-to-day expenses. 

“Our rural fire departments are the backbone of our communities,” said Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher.  “I’m thankful to every one of our paid and volunteer firefighters who protect lives and property. I’m thankful as well for their families who make this willing sacrifice of their service.

“I’m a strong supporter of these funds, knowing they are critical to our long-term success in maintaining and improving our state’s fire service.  Grants like these can make a big difference to a small department.”

The Oklahoma Forestry Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, is the state’s lead agency for wildland fire fighting and works with rural fire departments across the state to coordinate fire suppression efforts, provide training and improve fire capacity. 

For a complete list of the fire departments being awarded operational grants and for more information visit Oklahoma Forestry Services’ website at    http://www.forestry.ok.gov/rfd-operational-assistance-grants

 

Below is a list of rural fire departments from Oklahoma House District 59 receiving grants:

Fire Department

Grant Amount

COG

County

HR District

City of Watonga for Watonga Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Blaine

59

Eagle City Rural Fire District

$3,817.41

NODA

Blaine

59

Town of Canton for Canton Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Blaine

59

Town of Greenfield for Greenfield Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Blaine

59

Town of Hitchcock for Hitchcock Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Blaine

59

Town of Longdale for Longdale Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Blaine

59

Town of Okeene for Okeene Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Blaine

59

Town of Okarche for Okarche Fire Department

$3,817.41

ACOG

Canadian

59

City of Seiling for Seiling Fire Department

$3,817.41

OEDA

Dewey

59

Oakwood Volunteer Fire Dept. Inc.

$3,817.41

OEDA

Dewey

59

Taloga Fire and Ambulance

$3,817.41

OEDA

Dewey

59

Town of Camargo for Camargo Fire Department

$3,817.41

OEDA

Dewey

59

Town of Leedey for Leedey Fire Department

$3,817.41

OEDA

Dewey

59

Town of Vici for Vici Fire Department

$3,817.41

OEDA

Dewey

59

Big 4 Rural Fire District Association

$3,817.41

NODA

Kingfisher

59

City of Kingfisher for Kingfisher Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Kingfisher

59

Town of Dover for Dover Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Kingfisher

59

Town of Hennessey for Hennessey Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Kingfisher

59

Town of Loyal for Loyal Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Kingfisher

59

Town of Omega for Omega Fire Department

$3,817.41

NODA

Kingfisher

59

Town of Sharon for Sharon Fire Department

$3,817.41

OEDA

Woodward

59

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Evaluating Economic Incentives

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission met this past week to begin discussing proposedevaluation criteria for 12 state economic incentives scheduled for review this year.

A 2015 state law requires each state economic incentive to be independently evaluated once every four years. The evaluations, performed by independent contractor Public Financial Management Inc., will help determine the effectiveness of each incentive and recommend whether it be retained, reformed or repealed.

This year’s incentive evaluations will be delivered to the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the state Senate and the governor before the start of the legislative session.

This work would happen even in the best of budget years. But, in a year when we had to work hard to come up with enough money to fill a $1.3 billion budget hole to support core state services, the commission’s work becomes even more pronounced.

Incentives to be evaluated this year include ad valorem tax exemptions for certain  types of new and expanding manufacturers, including researcher and development companies, computer services and data processors, aircraft repair companies, oil refineries and wind power generators; the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Act, which is hoped to spur job creation, bring dollars to Oklahoma businesses and enhance the state’s image; as well as tax credits for electricity generated by zero-emission facilities, for historic rehabilitation, and for aerospace engineering employees, among others. One incentive would provide access-road building assistance for certain industries needing to connect to state roadways.

As with all incentive and tax credit programs offered by the State of Oklahoma, we need to make sure they make sense for our taxpayers and for the preservation of core state services such as transportation, education, health care and public safety.

One of the commission members on Thursday said the criteria should include the effects that similar incentives have had. It’s also good to look at the state’s changing environment. What might have made sense 10 years ago when an incentive was legislatively approved may no longer be reasonable as the state’s industrial climate changes.

Commission members stressed that we need to ask questions about impact such as do these incentives bring jobs, skilled workers, tourists or others to our state to do business, build our communities and contribute to our tax base. Do they increase our sales tax collections? Does an incentive actually aid a company’s, and therefore the state’s bottom line?

One commission member pointed out that we want to make sure we stay competitive with other states. That’s important.

We need to ask questions about why we’re offering certain incentives. Is it a matter of pride? Is it to remove blight, to bring jobs, to boost local or state economies?

These are all things that will go into the criteria the Incentive Evaluation Commission develops for its next meeting before the evaluators get to work studying each of these 12 incentives.

These evaluations will then let me and other state representatives know which incentives we will need to preserve for the future and which will either need to be revised or repealed in our upcoming legislative session.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407.

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Have a Great Fourth of July

By Rep. Mike Sanders

On this day in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. The Fourth of July is the most American of holidays, a time we celebrate the unique path our nation took and the sacrifice and efforts of countless individuals to earn the freedoms we enjoy today.

According to the U.S. Census web site, there were an estimated 2.5 million people in the United States in July 1776. Today, there is more than 300 million people in the U.S. Our country inspired millions of immigrants over the years to make long voyages to taste the way of life and freedom created in the U.S. Our nation’s growth made us the deciding factor in both World Wars. From that point forward, our nation has been heavily involved in world affairs, helping to resolve conflicts abroad and eliminating threats to our national security.

Right now, our troops are striving to stabilize the region in which terrorists are bred. Their efforts will lead not only to our protection but to the protection of future generations of Americans.

Not only has our nation grown on courage and conviction, but on the sure judgment our Founding Fathers had in writing our constitution and in creating a check-and-balance system of government. Many men who were devoted to forming a better nation strove to write unparalleled ideals into the way this country operates. Leaders throughout our nation’s history have worked to improve our government’s respect for its citizens and to lead them through difficult times.

On this July 4th weekend, I would ask that we all take time to ponder the freedoms that we have and thank and remember those who have contributed to or who continue to contribute to our security and liberty today. We are a nation of free thinkers and courageous freedom lovers and enjoy the protection of a robust military force. For that we should all celebrate.

Take care and have a safe July 4th weekend with family and friends.

I will regularly tell you about the goings-on at the state throughout the summer. As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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District 59 Road Projects, Part 2

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Last week, I discussed several current and future road and bridge projects in the district. There are a few more future projects I would like to tell you about this week. My intent is to continue to emphasize the importance of transportation funding in our state as it is a frequent target in budget negotiations.

First, numerous projects in the district will add shoulders and increase the safety of our local roads. Shoulders will be added to State Highway 33 east out of Kingfisher to State Highway 74. Shoulders will also be added to State Highway 51 east out of Hennessey. A project was also added last year to do the same, but to the west out of Hennessey on State Highway 51 to State Highway 132. It is not fully funded, but the right-of-way and utilities are in the 2023 plan. These projects are on the eight-year road and bridge plan and in time will be scheduled and completed.

Secondly, the Kingfisher Creek Bridge north of Kingfisher will be replaced and the northbound lanes of US-81 will be reconstructed with shoulders while the southbound lanes will be rehabilitated between Kingfisher and Okarche. Both of these projects are scheduled to start in 2016 and 2017.

Thirdly, I also want to tell you about where we are at the state level. Our state has one of the largest transportation systems in the nation. We are ranked 17th nationally – right between New York and Florida. The state highway system encompasses 12,264 centerline miles and contains more than 6,800 bridges.

Oklahoma’s transportation system was severely underfunded from 1985 to 2005. More than 1,500 of our highway bridges were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. There were 137 structures that could not bear a legally loaded truck.

In 2005, legislators began to reverse this trend and for 20 years now we have been making great progress, even during tough budget years. Of those 1,500 bridges that were structurally deficient, we’ve replaced many, but as we repair old ones, other bridges fall into structurally deficient status or are simply determined to fail to meet increasing traffic needs. There are only about 300 left of those original deficient bridges. With that moving number, it’s always a struggle to make up for the underfunding of the past, but we are getting there. We also have about 4,600 miles of highways that need shoulders to increase safety.

Despite our progress, the point is that we must continue to treat transportation as a core service in the budget. Maintenance and repair for such a vast system as we have in Oklahoma takes a lot of focus to stay on top of. Even a year’s worth of funding decreases can set us back significantly.

Back in the day, politics played a role in where a bridge or road was constructed. That no longer happens at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Unsafe roads and unsafe bridges are marked and dealt with based on needs only. As the chair of the budget subcommittee on transportation, I have heard of a desire to politicize those decisions again. I can assure you that as chair I will vehemently oppose any such effort to reinsert politics in the process. It simply isn’t appropriate when we are talking about the life-saving necessity of repairing our worst roads and bridges first.

I will regularly tell you about the goings-on at the state throughout the summer. As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Session Accomplishments, Part 2

By Rep. Mike Sanders

In addition to passing a budget and legislation to improve the long-term fiscal management practices of the state this year, the Oklahoma Legislature also reduced state-level education mandates and enhanced the pursuit of public safety in Oklahoma.

Of the bills I had signed into law this year, I am most proud of my bill to curb drunk driving in Oklahoma. House Bill 3146 requires all impaired driving cases to go to district court, or a municipal court of record. Previously, drunk drivers were flying under the radar through multiple offenses because of prosecution in municipal courts that only sometimes passed on that information to the district courts for the purposes of catching and prosecuting repeat offenders.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths. We have a problem partially because when drunk drivers are arrested in municipal courts and a record of their crime does not reach district prosecutors, then he or she may be a repeat offender with a serious drug or alcohol problem who is flying under the radar. There are 354 municipal courts in Oklahoma who handle a large volume of DUI arrests, but that are not ‘courts of record.’

Of all the bills passed during my tenure at the Oklahoma Legislature, the new drunk driving law has the greatest potential to save lives. It’s the most pivotal public safety law passed in decades. It goes into effect November 1.

I also co-authored two bills that are now signed into law. House Bill 2398 clarifies the criminal law regarding forcible sodomy. Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the law did not justify a conviction in the case of a man who committed forcible sodomy on an unconscious victim. It was incredibly upsetting to see this individual get away with the crime, but we have now fixed the problem so that there will not be another case like it. A second bill, Senate Bill 1491, broadens the definition of domestic violence. Current statute defines it as a pattern involving three or more incidents of abuse. This new law will make it two or more and remove a stipulation that it occur within a 12-month period.

I was also pleased with another bill to improve the prosecution of serial killers and other murderers. Senate Bill 1214 modified the “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea to push out those individuals with antisocial personality disorder that is common among some of the most heinous, but cold-blooded killers. Those individuals would now fall under a “guilty with mental defect” that would require them to get both treatment, but still serve a full sentence in a corrections facility. They would be subject to intense evaluation before release, again, after serving a full sentence.

On the education front, too much testing has long been a problem in Oklahoma. While the goal of accountability is appropriate, the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated state testing, went too far. Now that some of those federal policies have been scaled back, we quickly took the opportunity to reduce state tests. House Bill 3218 eliminates nine state tests, including three end-of-instruction tests in the upcoming school year. It further gives the state education department the authority to try and consolidate the remaining high school assessments into some broad assessment like the ACT or SAT in future years.

We also scaled back some of the test-based evaluations of teachers, while leaving in place qualitative evaluations. House Bill 2957 modifies the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System to create evidence-based and researched professional development plans for every Oklahoma educator. Basically, schools can continue to use any kind of evaluation, but will not be required to do test-based evaluations, especially when we are moving away from the current testing model.

Legislators also enacted legislation that emerged from the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Teacher Shortage Task Force. House Bill 2371 eliminates the requirement that a mentor teacher be employed by the school district and allows a former or retired classroom teacher to volunteer or serve part-time in that role at the discretion of the district. House Bill 2946 eases the ability of the state board to issue a teaching certificate to a person who has an out-of-state certificate. House Bill 2967 gives district boards of education the authority to enter into contracts with student teachers while they are still student teachers, provided that they cannot teach the next year until completing all certification requirements. House Bill 3025 expands the list of those who qualify to pursue a standard certificate through an alternative placement program. House Bill 3102 increases the maximum number of clock hours an adjunct teacher may teach.

Next week, I will tell you about district road projects. As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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District 59 Road projects, part 1

By Rep. Mike Sanders

After fighting successfully again for transportation funding this year, I would like to emphasize the many local road and bridge projects completed, going on and planned for the future. I know that these projects are the source of some of my most frequent constituent calls. Hopefully, this will give everyone a feel for the good work being done in the district and the importance of road and bridge funding.

At the intersection of State Highway 4 and State Highway 3 in Piedmont, a project to overlay a rough spot and smooth it out has been completed. Another project is complete on the Okarche portion of State Highway 81 and State Highway 3. Surfacing work is finished and striping was completed this last week.

There is an ongoing project on US-270 between Woodward and Seiling. This is a grade, drain, surface and bridge project. It was a $19.77 million project. Cummins Construction Company is constructing two new eastbound lanes and making improvements to the existing two lanes to construct a four lane divided highway. This project was awarded back in September 2015 and work began on December 15, 2015. We anticipate completion in the fall of 2017.

Another $2.5 million current project in Blaine County on State Highway 3 east of Watonga will replace a structurally deficient bridge. That means that the existing bridge has one or more structural elements that have deteriorated to a rating of 4 on a scale from 1-9 (9 being the best). This project will be completed in the fall of 2016. 

Another $8 million current project in Dewey County is on US-270, from 1.7 miles southeast of the SH-51W junction in Seiling and extends southeast 3.92 miles and this project will surface the parallel lane and be completed in the summer of 2016. The turning lanes at the SH-51E junction (the Canton turnoff) were completed this spring.

Upcoming 2016 projects include a $2.8 million concrete overlay on State Highway 51 east of Canton, a $6.1 million bridge project over the South Canadian River on US-183 north of Taloga, and a $9 million project on US-270 beginning 1.7 miles southeast of the junction of SH-51 in Seiling to rehabilitate the existing lanes and make this section fully functional as a four-lane divided highway. 

In 2017, there are two asphalt overlay projects on US-183 between Putnam and Taloga at a total cost of $4.4 million, a $10.86 million project on US-270 near the SH-51E junction (the Canton turnoff) to make that a four-lane divided highway and a couple of bridge projects on SH-8 south of Okeene at Spring Creek and Salt Creek totaling $3.2 million.

In 2018, there is a bridge project scheduled over the North Canadian River on State Highway 51 east of Canton at a cost of $5.46 million.

All of these projects in Northwest Oklahoma would not be completed without the eight-year transportation plan being protected and funded properly. Having safe roads is a smart investment for industry to locate to our state, but, more importantly, safe roads are a key component of public safety. We cannot turn back now. We owe it to the people of Oklahoma. I can assure you as chairman on the subcommittee that oversees the transportation budget, I will ensure the eight-year plan is funded throughout my tenure here. I am proud to stand with state transportation officials and county government in ensuring this basic need.

In next week’s column, I will tell you about other future road and bridge projects in the district. As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Session Accomplishments, Part 1

By Rep. Mike Sanders

While a budget that protected core services and the eight-year road and bridge plan was our most critical accomplishment this year, the Oklahoma Legislature made policy changes that were intended to have greater long-term effects on our fiscal health.

Although many constituents were worried about the upcoming budget, the midyear revenue failure had a more immediate and painful effect. Although we had “rainy day” money set aside to help decrease that midyear cut, there were also limits on how much we could responsibly take when we could face future years with a revenue shortfall. Basically, it was clear that we needed to store more away for such difficult years.

For that reason, we enacted House Bill 2763 this year. The new law creates the Revenue Stabilization Fund, which is tied more directly to volatile revenue streams such as the gross production taxes on oil and gas and corporate income tax. Under the law, the state will save any revenue above a five-year average calculation to save for the years when we fall below that average. We will be able to use a quarter of the money in that fund to address a revenue failure and potential midyear cut or half to fill a budget shortfall for an upcoming year. The Rainy Day Fund works similarly, with rules about how money can be pulled out of it, which ensures it is used for its intended purpose.

A bad budget idea that showed up in the last week of session was to consolidate or dismantle the Council on Firefighter Training, which identifies the training needs for firefighters in Oklahoma, both volunteer and career. This organization has a huge positive impact on fire departments across Oklahoma through its efforts on training, health and safety. The plan was to move them under the state fire marshal, but without any funding to support their function. Fortunately, we were able to successfully defeat this idea.

Long-term health care funding was another issue that we worked on this year. While we do not think it is prudent to accept additional federal monies, we know that we must have a conservative approach to ensuring health care access in our rural communities. We enacted House Bill 2549 and Senate Bill 1149 to stabilize the funding and management of nursing homes and municipal hospitals. We also approved House Bill 2547, which removes a telemedicine requirement to ensure it can be more broadly used and therefore help to reduce some of the operating costs of the health care industry in rural areas.

Finally, there’s a false claim being made that we increased legislative pay or our operating budget. We decreased the Oklahoma House of Representatives by 25 percent. This reduction reflected the fact that we are moving constitutionally-mandated salaries and benefits to the Oklahoma Legislative Service Bureau. Legislative salaries are set by a nonpartisan commission. We do not set our own salaries and the commission has not approved a raise since the 1990s, nor do they plan to do so in the near future. With 101 legislators, the fixed salaries and costs of our chamber were a larger percentage than in most agencies. Moving those costs out of the House allows us to better manage and reduce operating costs in the future.

In my next column, I will highlight education and criminal justice policy changes enacted in the 2016session. As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

 

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