By Rep. Mike Sanders
There was some good news this week in an otherwise gloomy revenue year. General Revenue Fund collections in March exceeded the estimate for the first time since July 2015. As the state’s main operating fund, it is the key indicator of state government’s fiscal status. It also means that it is less likely that we will see any more revenue failures in the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends in June.
March collections of $394.2 million were $3.1 million, or 0.8 percent, above the official estimate upon which this year’s budget was based. We did estimate a shortfall, so those collections are still $30.1 million, or 7.1 percent, below prior year collections. Total collections for the first nine months of FY 2016 were $3.7 billion, which is $323.8 million, or 8 percent, below the official estimate and $386.6 million, or 9.4 percent, below prior year collections.
I know that some constituents have been concerned about the increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma. While most are minor, some have caused damage to households. The Oklahoma Legislature has now sent Governor Mary Fallin a bill intended to clarify and increase the authority of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to respond to emergency situations that could have an environmental or public safety impact. House Bill 3158 allows the commission to take whatever action is necessary, without notice and hearing, to respond to an emergency. This follows on the heels of actions the governor took to increase funding to the commission and other agencies working on the earthquake problem.
The governor has signed several important bills into law. House Bill 3102 expands the number of hours an adjunct teacher can teach in Oklahoma classrooms from 90 to 270. These are teachers that have not gone through the teaching certification process, but are a necessary tool for school districts facing a teacher shortage.
Another measure signed into law was Senate Bill 1342, which modifies the Taxpayer Transparency Act. The change allows Oklahomans to see all federal funds received by state agencies and track how the monies are used.
We passed a measure on the House floor that authorizes a municipality to enter into agreements for used equipment that has been tested and certified as safe with a volunteer fire department. The measure exempts the municipality from liability for any damage caused by the use of such equipment.
Another important House bill approved by the Senate contains a budget reform. House Bill 3058 provides a process for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to reconcile all state agency revolving funds. This is an attempt to ensure excess funds to not remain in agency accounts when they might be needed in the budget process.
Finally, I always try to track child welfare reform bills. Another House Bill close to being signed into law is House Bill 2963. It provides that court approval of the affidavit disclosing all monies expended by an adoptive family during the process of adoption does not exempt a person, attorney or child placing agency from prosecution if it was fraudulent or false and specifies what constitutes reasonable fees of a child placing agency.