Budget Bills Advance

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Every year we craft a state budget based on the previous year’s budget. A lot of that process is done in meetings rather than the normal legislative process. However, when we want to do something significantly different, beyond just haggling over numbers, we do run a bill through the normal process.

That brings me to several of this year’s tax credit and spending measures. Three of these bills will likely make it into law this year. One faces stiff opposition in the House.

Senate Bill 232 is the Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper pay raise. The State of Oklahoma Total Remuneration Study of 2013 found that trooper salaries were 14 percent below the average salary of state troopers in other parts of the country. We have also seen figures showing that recruitment pool is at an all-time low. If we want to continue to have a strong state trooper force, we have to increase the salary for these highly-trained men and women. 

The price tag on the pay raise bill is $6.17 million. That covers the 14 percent raise and the corresponding benefits based on that salary.

Senate Bill 1711 changes a current tax credit for compressed natural gas filling stations. Private companies sometimes open these stations just for in-house use. This measure requires a company to make their station open to the public if they want to qualify for this credit.

Senate Bill 2044 is a plan to pay for repairs to the Oklahoma State Capitol. Maintenance on this building has been underfunded throughout state history. This had made it difficult to address the backlog of disrepair without significant spending. We currently have a system of broken sewage and water lines, a crumbling exterior and old electrical work. This measure proposes a $160 million bond issue to repair the Capitol building. We need to fix the people’s building.

The high priority of Capitol repairs and trooper pay raises is clear to all of us. A sticking point this year in the Oklahoma Legislature is a proposal to give more money to a museum project inOklahoma City that squandered past funding. Senate Bill 1651 would provide $40 million from the unclaimed property fund to finish the American Indian Museum and Cultural Center. Many conservatives in the House have three objections to this bill. First, we don’t think borrowing from the unclaimed property fund is appropriate. Second, we don’t think it is appropriate to spend more money on a project because it misspent the money in the first place. Third, we consider this to be a low-priority item, unworthy of tax dollars.

For many voters, a top concern is the proper stewardship of state money. I want to keep you informed on how this body spends your money and hope to present the results of this year’s budget negotiations soon.

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

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