Repair needs drop in on House

by Rep. Mike Sanders

Two policy issues are on the forefront of the minds of legislators this week. The first concerns oil and gas jobs and doing what is necessary to keep them in our state. The second, Capitol repairs, dropped back into view when concrete fell through the ceiling of a House office.

Oil and gas jobs are the bread and butter of the Oklahoma economy and contribute significantly to the approximate 3 percent unemployment rate in my own legislative district. Oklahoma has 192 active rigs that generate $831 million in revenue to the state, counties and education. The industry employs nearly 350,000 Oklahomans. For this reason, Democrats and Republicans have both supported horizontal and vertical drilling incentives for more than a decade.

Right now, those incentives are getting close to their expiration date. Without the incentives, drilling is taxed at 7 percent on gross production. The incentives currently lower that rate to 1 percent for a time. Some last for 24 months and other last for 48 months.

Public schools are feeling strapped for cash currently. This has led to a call to allow the incentives to expire. I believe that road will only lead to fewer jobs and ultimately less funding. Instead, I am supporting the plan that jumps the rate up under the incentive, but does not do away with it altogether. The new plan would set the incentives for horizontal and vertical drilling at 2 percent for 48 months.

That extra percentage point will provide millions of dollars back to the general revenue fund that can then be used for education, health care, public safety, corrections and transportation. The problem is that if we raise it much more than that, the companies will go where the economics favor them. There is better rock in North Dakota and better rock in Texas. These companies do not need to be in Oklahoma. We must get this right. We need to be very careful that we do not bite the hand that feeds us. If the oil and gas business sours in our state it will hurt funding for all essential services.

A large chunk of concrete that crashed through a House office brought a second policy discussion back into view. Repairing the 100-year-old seat of Oklahoma government has been a policy discussion all year, but proponents of a bond proposal to fund those repairs got new wind in their sails now that we are literally seeing the building fall apart. The concrete had separated from the steel rebar due to rust and expansion caused by moisture in the building.

We have seen two plans this year, either of which I would support in order to ensure we protect Capitol employees and visitors. The first plan would authorize us to borrow $160 million over 25 years. The second plan would authorize $120 million over 10 or 15 years.

It is frustrating that disrepair and poor fixes have been the normal way of business for the last 100 years. If this building had been properly cared for, we would not be in the position we are in today. This building warrants repairs and we should uphold our duty to it. I think that $120 million will not get us there. The $160 million authorization does not mean we have to use all that funding. The number is a high estimate to ensure we have what is needed available.

With all these other important discussions we have going on, I find it difficult to take a plan to give the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum an additional $40 million seriously. We really don’t have the money for projects of this nature. I can think of 40 million other places to spend this money, all of which would do more for Oklahomans than this museum.

We are getting closer to the end of session. Our constitutionally set last day is May 30, unless we get done early. We have to have a balanced budget. We need to be prudent and responsible with the people’s money. And I assure you I will fight for appropriate spending for essential services and cuts to non-essential projects.

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

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