The Budget Fix That Almost Wasn’t

The Budget Fix That Almost Wasn’t

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

The agreement to fix the 2010 budget hole was almost killed in the Oklahoma Senate last week. Democrats in the Senate initially voted against emergency funding for state troopers and the Department of Corrections as a “protest” against the elimination of the senior nutrition program, which was slashed by the Department of Human Services.

It was stunning to see the budget agreement used as a partisan weapon. Voting to block emergency funding for the Department of Corrections and Department of Public Safety would literally put lives at risk because troops and corrections officers would both be furloughed for up to 16 days beginning this month. Idling so many law enforcement officers could have tragic consequences.

I was also disappointed to see Senate Democrats attempt to score points with seniors by playing along with DHS’s political maneuvering. As I’ve said in previous columns, I believe DHS officials cut the program not because they had to, but because they could then blame the Legislature for trimming their budget. Instead of finding ways to make their services more efficient, the agency used the destruction of a popular program to try to avoid taking the same cuts as everyone else.

The Senate Democrats finally backed down due to a combination of pressure from state troopers and corrections officers and a promise by Senate Republicans to examine senior nutrition concerns in the 2011 budget. After so much hard work and with so many constituents voicing their concern about the budget hole, I was pleased to see that the plan was not derailed. I would also like to make it clear that I understand the importance of providing for our elders. There is talk of the senior nutrition program being moved from DHS. This is a prudent move that will benefit Oklahoma’s seniors and will hopefully allow funding for the program to be reinstated.

I was pleased to support the House passage of workers’ compensation legislation. Many are deeply dissatisfied with the current system because it is plagued by fraud and high costs, and rarely produces consistently fair and equitable results. Despite the fact that the benefits provided in Oklahoma are comparable to those in other states, the actual cost of those benefits in our state is the most expensive in the nation.

The recently passed legislation seeks to both significantly improve employee benefits and lower business expenses, making Oklahoma more attractive to new industry. The reforms being sought will include defining the term “surgery” for purposes of compensation, strengthening the value-added attorney fee provision, and capping the time for temporary total disability.

Northwest Oklahoma represented itself well at the small school state basketball tournament in Oklahoma City. Congratulations are in order to a number of teams. Coach Meyers and the Okarche girls team won the Class A State Championship this past Saturday night, their first state title since 1982. The Okarche boys team came close, making it to the State Championship game. The Vici boys and girls teams and the Seiling Lady Wildcats deserve praise for their performances. The Okeene boys team have been named Academic State Champions for the fifth year in a row. The Watonga boys team qualified for state. The Seiling High School Choir also deserves praise for a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem.

Census workers are beginning to visit Western Oklahoma. I urge residents to fill out the requested information and send it in as soon as possible.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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