CLAREMORE, Okla. — Following the final State of the State address to be given by Governor Mary Fallin, local legislators shared their thoughts.
Senator Micheal Bergstrom called some of Fallin's comments in the Monday address "spot on."
"Since our prisons are at 112 percent capacity, her call for us to take on the challenge of prison overcrowding and finding alternate ways to deal with those with addictions is spot on. We need to deal with that now, before we end up with the Department of Justice deciding it wants to take control of the situation away from the state," Bergstrom said.
Bergstrom added, "I was glad to see that the Governor's speech was not a lengthy laundry list of proposed tax increases like last year's."
"The Governor is correct in that compromise will be necessary for the legislature to deal with long-term funding issues and to reform the government to make it more efficient. At the same time, she also noted that the legislature is no rubber stamp for her or any group's
proposals," he said. "While she supports the Step-Up proposal, she stated that there are portions of the plan that we may choose to modify or scuttle, and that is what I expect will happen."
In response to the address, Rep. Tom Gann said, "I would like to say there are better options than the Governor's plan or it would have been passed by now."
"The 'Step Up' plan is the same plan rejected by the House last year. Raising taxes as a state while taxes are being reduced nationally is counter productive," Gann said. "From testimony I have witnessed as a member of the Special Investigative Committee, I am convinced the legislature does not have a clear picture of the financial status of some agencies. As a result, following passage of the new federal tax cuts everyone's excited about, a change made last year to OK's state standard deduction (prior to the federal tax cuts passing) will end up costing OK taxpayers $375 million a year. When it was originally passed last spring, the estimate was that it would only cost OK taxpayers about $11 million a year."
Gann said he has submitted a bill for a two year budget cycle, "so we can take the time to understand where we are financially."
In regards to Fallin's points on teacher pay raises and the Step Up Oklahoma plan, Sen. Marty Quinn said, "Obviously it would be nice for us to have the ability to have a $5,000 teacher pay raise. But it all depends on how much revenue we raise. Just because a group of oil people from Oklahoma City suggests we should raise certain revenues, doesn't mean we should do it.”
He said any raise would be a step in the right direction.
"She believes we have the capability of putting together some legislation that would allow us some funding streams that would at least give a teacher pay raise and $5,000 is the number that's out there right now. But ultimately if you don't pass some sort of income tax, then those numbers are going to go down. There are plenty of other revenue streams that are in Step Up Oklahoma, you just don't know how many you'll be able to get passed," Quinn said.
Quinn said he believes the governor addressed the topic of criminal justice reform well.
"There is a fine line. It's about having the right people that you can reform through some type of treatment service that allows them to go back into society as a productive citizen," he said. "In these non-violent instances I think that's an avenue we need to pursue. But it's a fine line because if you turn the wrong person loose because of too much flexibility in the criminal code, then someone could get hurt or lose their life and that's a situation we can't have. I think she is dedicated to trying to find some way to rehabilitate people and find the right treatments to help them. It's something we will have to proceed with caution on."
Fallin's remarks referenced "a historic, defining moment."
Quinn said this is the governor's last opportunity to "move the state forward in some areas that she feels passionately about, and she want's to make the most of that."
He said many of the things they're trying to accomplish, like teacher pay raises, needed to be done a few years ago.
"But as long as you're continuing to waste money in the form of tax credits, tax incentives and tax rebates to special interest groups, you're never going to have the full effect of your revenue stream that allows you the ability to fund core services. That is a battle that has been here Governor Fallin's entire time and there hasn't been but a few significant changes. There are many more significant changes that have to be made to our tax structure to balance and she should have taken up that mantle a long time ago. She wants to make the most out of her last year there and I admire her for that," he said.
Quinn felt the State of the State, overall, was positive.
"I think she has been scolding in the past, but I think she made the effort yesterday not to throw the legislative body under the bus, and that's wise because that's who she has to work with," he said.
"At the end of the day we have to work our way throughout he maze of suggestions and come up with a budget that will allow us flexibility to change some of the services we provide to core services."
In her final message to legislators, Fallin focused on the "urgent need to improve the state's budgeting process, saying the Step Up Oklahoma plan proposed by a group of community and business leaders is the best option for lawmakers to sufficiently fund education, public safety, health, and the state's infrastructure needs," according to a release from the governor's office.
In the release, Fallin is quoted in saying, "“Make no mistake about it: This is an historic, defining moment before us. We are in a unique period as this legislative session begins with a concurrent special session. We also are at a special point in Oklahoma’s journey because the prospect of a brighter path forward is so very near.
“What we do as a unified group of people elected by the citizens of our state could be considered the moment in time that changed Oklahoma.”
In regards to criminal justice reforms Fallin too few Oklahomans are getting the treatment needed for substance and mental health issues. Rather, she said, they are "winding up in our criminal justice system.""We need to stop warehousing moms and dads, sons and daughters in prison when many just need substance abuse treatment.
“We need to continue our focus, and can do so without jeopardizing public safety. There are bills proposed by the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force that are smart, data-driven solutions to safely and prudently fix our criminal justice system. Send them to me to sign.”
Fallin called on lawmakers to approve pay raises for teachers.
According to the governor's release, for the third year in a row, she challenged lawmakers to approve a pay raise for public school teachers. The Step Up Oklahoma plan includes a $5,000 pay raise for teachers. Fallin said teachers will see the increase not just as a way to help pay bills, but as a validation of their vital vocation.
“What kind of future do we want to have? Do we find it acceptable to have four-day school weeks? Is it acceptable for Texas to steal our teachers and leave our classrooms short of teachers?” Fallin said.