Last week marked the beginning of the 2013 Legislative Session. On Monday members of the House and Senate gathered in the House Chamber to hear Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State address. This speech gives Oklahoma’s chief executive the opportunity to share her views on how the state is doing and her recommendations on the budget and legislation for the session.
There were several agenda items that I believe are very positive for our state. She talked about her continued commitment to a program called Complete College America, with the laudable goal of increasing the number of adults in our state with college degrees or career tech certificates by 70 percent in order to keep pace with a job market that increasingly requires better educated workers. Across the board, studies show the direct correlation between education and earning potential. This is the key to helping our citizens, communities and our state reach new levels of success.
The governor also talked about the need to continue state efforts to improve our public schools, with special emphasis on the need to fully fund the numerous reforms that have been enacted in recent years. Her budget called for a $13.5 million funding increase to pay for these reforms as well as an $8.5 million supplemental appropriation to pay for teachers’ health benefits in the current fiscal year. However these amounts only represent an overall budget increase of one-half of one percent. I do not believe this comes even close to meeting the critical needs our local schools are facing.
The governor also talked about the need to continue efforts to increase the solvency of the state’s various pension systems — an issue that is very important not only to current and future retirees, but to the state’s overall economic health.
She also proposed a $16 million increase for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, with a special emphasis on suicide prevention, pointing out Oklahoma has one of the higher suicide rates in our nation. I applaud this recommendation.
Most state employees and teachers in Oklahoma have not had any kind of pay raise in several years. The Governor did not call for any kind of cost of living adjustment for those dedicated employees in her address or her budget.
Again, I ask for thoughtful discussion on the renewed recommendation to cut the state’s top income tax bracket, which would eliminate more than $100 million dollars in funding for vital services ranging from education to healthcare to public safety. Before that discussion proceeds, we must know how that revenue would be offset—whether that is to be accomplished through the elimination of tax breaks or by cuts to the programs our citizens depend upon.
At this point in the session, the discussion on policy and budget now move to the legislative arena. It is my hope that our members will put politics aside and work with one another and with the governor to develop policies and prioritize our resources so that we place our citizens first, laying the foundation for an even stronger future for our state.
As always if you have a question about a legislative matter, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (405) 521-5541 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an honor to serve as your voice at the State Capitol. If I may be of help, please contact me. May God Bless you!
Susan Paddack is state senator for District 13.