By Rep. Mike Sanders
The legislative session will start in just a few weeks on Feb. 3, but lawmakers have already been meeting to hear early details of this year’s economic outlook. All indications are we will have a flat budget year after a few years of revenue growth. This is primarily due to a slowdown in oil and gas, on which our state is still heavily reliant.
This slowdown is shown in the state’s December General Revenue Fund (GRF) collections, released this week. We received a total of $631.8 million, which is $11.2 million, or 1.8%, above collections in December 2018 but $8.9 million, or 1.4%, below the estimate for the month.
And, even though our total GRF collections for the first six months of Fiscal Year 2020 are above estimate by $28.3 million, or 0.9%, that’s not enough of rise to pull us much above what we had to appropriate during our last legislative session – hence the flat budget projections for Fiscal Year 2021.
This will mean some conservative budgeting for state agencies. Honestly, though, this is always my heart – fund only what is absolutely necessary to deliver core state services. We will continue to keep transportation as a priority, making sure our roads and bridges plan stays on pace. We also will likely add more money to education again this year to limit classroom sizes and see better education outcomes in the number of students reading and performing math and other subjects on grade level. Graduating students who are ready for the higher education or the work force is important not only to our young people but to our state as a whole.
Health care and public safety also will continue as a priority in our state budget, and we will continue to save money to prudently plan for possible future downturns in the economy.
On the topic of health care, lawmakers are awaiting the governor’s plan on how to best receive more federal Medicaid dollars. We don’t want to put Obamacare into our state constitution and tie our hands to spending billions of our taxpayer dollars in the likely event the federal government will quit paying its share in the future. We also want some flexibility over things such as work requirements for non-disabled individuals. Lawmakers have plans to address these issues, but we must pass something the governor will sign. This is why we are waiting on his lead in this.
In the meantime, the governor has yet to resolve his dispute with Oklahoma tribes over gaming revenue, which by law is to be handled between the executive branch and the tribes. The governor contends the gaming compacts ended Jan. 1; the tribes contend they renewed automatically. The governor wants to renegotiate for higher revenue to match what is received in surrounding states. I trust this business arrangement can come to a resolution soon.
Due to term limits, this is my final year in the Oklahoma Legislature. I’ve been blessed with many legislative successes over my last 11 years. These include laws that crack down on drunk drivers, strengthen the rights of crime victims, add training to help teachers recognize students with dyslexia so they get help earlier, a tax exemption for the American Legion that helps our veterans, laws that ease restrictions for volunteer fire departments to recruit qualified firefighters and access better equipment among many others. I also remain a staunch defender of adequate transportation funding, Highway Patrol Trooper Academies and many other areas of core services that help everyday Oklahomans.
Just because this is my last session, I have no intention of slowing down. I will be as active as ever in pursuing laws that improve the lives of Oklahomans. In my next column, I will detail my legislative agenda for this year. I also remain the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, so I will be able to help some of the new lawmakers coming up behind me as they transition into leadership roles. I also will continue to serve this year as the chair of the House Utilities Committee.
As always, it is an honor to serve you. If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 firstname.lastname@example.org.