By Rep. Mike Sanders
Gov. Stitt this week signed a bill that will give the American Legion of Oklahoma sales tax-exempt status. The American Legion has served our Oklahoma veterans and their families for over 100 years, making sure they have clothing, food, health care and other services. They also help educate our youth about the value of patriotism and preserving liberty, and they keep a continual focus on national security. As the primary author of House Bill 1003, it was an honor to let the American Legion know this week that they can now look forward to this benefit.
Securing this tax exemption is something I’ve wanted to do since I got into office. Other organizations with similar missions already enjoy this exemption. But, as we all know, the state’s economy has been volatile for a number of years with the up and down price of oil and gas. We’ve finally hit better times, and for the first time in many years have a revenue surplus. This allowed unanimous passage of HB 1003 in both the House and Senate and gave the governor the confidence to sign this bill. I’m grateful for the support of this legislation.
In other news, the House Rules Committee voted recently to request an actuarial study to see how a 4 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) would affect six state pension funds. The House this year ran legislation to implement a 4 percent COLA for retired teachers, firefighters, law enforcement and police, justices and judges and other public employees.
The state Senate, however, amended that to 2 percent and then sent the measure to the legislative actuary for further study. The House is asking the actuary to study the 4 percent COLA, which better matches retirees’ needs and requests.
Some have suggested the solvency of the state’s pension funds would be negatively affected with a 4 percent COLA, so the actuary’s report should help determine that. The report is due before the beginning of the next legislative session, so we will know how to proceed with legislation next year.
Retirees welcomed the news that a 4 percent COLA was back within the realm of possibility as it has been about 12 years since they’ve seen an increase. Meanwhile, insurance costs and other living expenses continue to increase.
On a final note, House leadership is still in daily discussions with the Senate and the governor’s office to finalize the state budget. Education is the sticking point at this juncture. The House and the governor want to give Oklahoma teachers another $1,200 raise to get us to the top pay rate in the region. We then intend to put another $70 million increase into the state funding formula to better support our classrooms. The Senate would have us put all of the money into the formula or only offer the pay raise to the longest serving teachers. We’re close to a resolution. As always, I will keep you updated.
If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or email@example.com.