By Rep. Mike Sanders
This year, with so many new members and so many widely differing beliefs about what should and should not be funded by state government, the budget process was challenging.
Making it more difficult were the constantly shifting demands of the minority leader and his caucus. Believing they had just enough power in the House to stall budget negotiations indefinitely, they rejected every Republicans proposal to balance the budget. These included raising the gross production tax on oil and gas to 4, 4.5 even 5 percent. Republicans also agreed to six out of seven items in the Democrats’ budget plan. Each offer was left on the table.
Instead of being a statesman and a consensus builder – choosing to do what was best for the state instead of what was politically expedient for him individually – the minority leader over-kicked his punt coverage. Knowing we would not be able to rely on help to put the state on sound financial footing, the speaker of the House and me, along with other House leaders, turned to other measures to shore up core services demanded by our citizens, ones which we could pass without minority support.
We want to be able to work across the aisle, embracing all ideas that will make Oklahoma a stronger, better state – one that is open for business and economic growth and activity, one where personal freedoms are protected and the needs of citizens met. After several years of obstructionist tactics, however, it is clear we must move forward in developing an innovative and conservative policy agenda on which to build, regardless of whether theDemocrats join us.
To develop this agenda for implementation during the 2018 legislative session, House leadership recently announced it will hold a series of House Republican Leadership Policy Working Groups. I will help lead these groups. Our goal is to reduce government waste and increase efficiencies in spending, enhance personal freedom and grow economic opportunities for Oklahomans. We will study ways to rid agencies of duplicative services and help them run more efficiently; finding ways to better support but reform spending for transportation, public safety, education, healthcare and mental health. Members will participate in these groups voluntarily and will not be paid per diem or reimbursed for mileage. This won’t be on the taxpayer’s dime.
Bottom line is we need to restructure our state budget, moving more money from off-the-top appropriations to theGeneral Revenue Fund. We also need to take a more detailed look at each tax credit and deduction we offer and shed those that don’t benefit the state. We need to streamline the process by which we arrive at a balanced budget. We can’t do things the way they’ve always been done.
We started the changes this year, holding public hearings at the beginning of session for five state agencies that receive almost 80 percent of state appropriations. Each representative also rotated through various appropriation & budget subcommittees to get a better grasp of agency funding requests. These working groups will help us move even further forward next year.
To wrap up the highlights of our state budget for fiscal year 2018, I wanted to include a note about funding for public safety and corrections. Public safety received almost $13 million more this year than last, a 2.1 percent increase. Under this umbrella, the Department of Corrections received more than $4.5 million above last year. Keeping the public safe is one of the most important functions of government. This money will mean our prisons can be better staffed, increasing safety for both the public and corrections’ officers, and our Highway Patrol troopers can get back to patrolling our roads without the threat of furloughs or mileage caps.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.