The last days of session

Rep. Mike Sanders

With a budget agreement reached, state lawmakers are now in the final days of the legislative session. We are working late nights as we discuss the more complicated measures that remain on the docket. Last week, I told you about the oil and gas tax incentive and Capitol repair plans. I want to talk about them more, but also highlight a few items in the budget we approved this week.

First, let’s talk about education. Public schools will get $105.5 million in new money. The budget provides for a $40 million increase to absorb increasing costs for flexible benefits and $40 million to support additional enrollments. It provides $25.5 million for ad valorem reimbursements to school districts for this fiscal year.

State spending under the budget will decrease and more than 50 agencies took a reduction. This is in line with conservative budgeting and represents a trimming of the fat in government. Even as we shrink the state budget, we were able to provide for pay raises for critical public employees such as child welfare workers, Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers and corrections officers. I do not doubt for one minute that these critical public employees are worth every penny they receive for their service.

Last week, I told you about my concern that the expiration of key drilling incentives will jeopardize oil and gas jobs in Western Oklahoma. Without the incentives, drilling is taxed at 7 percent on gross production. That would result in reduced drilling and a severe hit to the Oklahoma economy. The incentives currently lower that rate to 1 percent for a time. Some last for 24 months and other last for 48 months. The House voted in favor of a plan this week that jumps the rate up under the incentive, but does not do away with it altogether. The new plan would set the incentives at 2 percent for 36 months. Securing continued drilling in Oklahoma will result in more funding for transportation, public safety, education and health care.

There is agreement now on a $120 million bond to repair the Oklahoma State Capitol. The century old building houses between 450-700 employees and officials depending on the time of year. It includes a total of 450,000 square feet and seven floors. It is a massive building of concrete and complex electrical and plumbing systems. I know that $120 million is a large number, but the Capitol is in need of a major overhaul.

The plan to spend $40 million on the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum is dead. I have heard that Oklahoma City may try to buy the project. I think that would be a fitting solution as it seems more of a local project than a state one.

I will soon provide a detailed account of the entire accomplishments of this year. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407.

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