House Passes Measures to Save Health Care Services

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House of Representatives this week voted overwhelmingly to appropriate supplemental funding to three state health care agencies to protect services for the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

In three separate bills on Monday, the House voted to use about $106 million in Rainy Day and carryover funds from fiscal year 2017 to send to the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Without the funds, the agencies had threatened to cut programs that serve the aging, foster children and the disabled, among others. House leaders said from the beginning, we were not going to let these three agencies feel the brunt of the budget shortfall. Keeping our rural hospitals and nursing homes open and ensuring health care services for those most in need is of paramount importance.

We couldn’t do this at the outset of our special session because the governor threatened to veto any bill that made use of these reserve funds or that cut spending for state agencies.

After months of trying to reach a bipartisan solution with House Democrats and the state Senate, however, this became the only solution that would garner enough support to pass the House and be sent to the Senate. These measures now go to the Senate for passage before the move to the governor for her signature. Any delay in the process threatens Oklahomans who need these health services.

In addition to the above measures, the House on Wednesday passed a measure that would end the incentive on gross production tax on legacy oil and gas wells, moving the tax rate from 4 to 7 percent. This is projected to earn about $48.5 million this fiscal year to help plug our budget hole, and up to $100 million next fiscal year that could be spent on teacher pay raises.

The House also passed a version of the teacher pay raise plan that would give teachers the first $1,000 of a pay raise beginning July 2018.

One additional measure would allow ball and dice games at tribal casinos that would raise $8.3 million this fiscal year and $35.6 million next fiscal year.

These measures still leave a small hole in this fiscal year’s budget. This could later be filled with supplemental funding once state reserves are replenished, or we could make some targeted cuts to state agencies without affecting core services. There are other options on the table as well. We’re still committed to finding a bipartisan agreement.

In the meantime, House leadership will continue to look for long-term budget solutions and to explore further efficiencies and look for cases of waste or outright abuse in state agency spending. You need look no further than the recent shakeup at the state Health Department to see examples of the kind of cleanup that is needed in our agencies.

As always, I look forward to hearing your ideas and concerns. If I can help you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me. I can be reached at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.govor (405) 557-7407.

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