By Rep. Mike Sanders
The governor in the past week signed into law House Bill 1833, which I authored. This measure moves the duties of the state Council of Firefighter Training (COFT) to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. COFT works with all state volunteer fire departments to make sure our firefighters are ready for any emergency. It was critical to keep this council intact. This measure keeps COFT duties but returns the State Fire Marshal’s Office to non-appropriated status as it has been in the past, saving the state $1.4 million. This money is greatly needed in our current economy.
Also signed into law this week was my House Bill 1259, which increases the qualifications for sheriff’s candidates. The intent is to make sure those who serve as sheriff in Oklahoma are highly qualified for this important position.
Already signed into law is Senate Bill 324, which I authored. This creates the Oklahoma Awards Program. The Oklahoma Medal of Valor and the Oklahoma Purple Heart will be awarded to those in our Department of Public Safety and citizens who display heroic acts of valor or are injured or give their lives in the call of serving another or saving a life. I am very proud and honored to carry this piece of legislation.
In the meantime, we are still working our way through the budget process. Every year we work on the budget for months and months, and it comes to May and we’re still hashing out the final details. Despite our best hopes, this year has proven no different. A few reasons for this: when you allow 149 lawmakers to come to the table to work out a deal, you won’t get one until the pressure of deadline arrives. Try this little experiment at a family dinner sometime – throw out the question of how you solve a budget problem and see how long it takes to get consensus. Now imagine doing that with 149 different people. In the past, budget deals have not had as much input as under current House leadership. Under speaker McCall and his leadership team, we’ve had a much more robust and open dialogue with input from all 73 members of the Republican Caucus. I can’t say that for all leaders at the Capitol.
House Republicans have offered numerous proposals to solve the state’s ongoing budget problems. Time and again the Democrats have rejected these plans, while shifting the goalposts of what they say they will support. One week they tie their vote to Insure Oklahoma, the next week it’s an income tax increase, the next week it’s renegotiating gross production taxes.
Democrats claim that every other Republican plan for revenue reform is an unfair burden to the middle class or the working poor. They instead have asked us to increase items such as income tax. Take into consideration, however, that the state’s highest income tax bracket kicks in for those earning just $7,200 for a single tax filer and $12,200 for married couples filing jointly. How is raising this tax not a tax on the middle class and really the poor?
We’re in the final weeks of session, and many ideas are still being posited. The bottom line remains, however, that we must always look for efficiencies in state government first and cutting government waste.
House Republicans do, however, want to make sure we are paying our teachers a comparable wage to neighboring states. We want to make sure we are adequately funding our roads and bridges. We want to ensure we’re keeping our public safe and that we are taking care of the needs of the most vulnerable among us.
I’m still optimistic that a budget deal can be reached, but I would ask for your sincere prayers in helping us accomplish this task.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.