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March 12, 2014

Thomsen: State would benefit from film crew revenues

Ada — A state senator and representative were guests in Ada at a Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon at the Pontotoc Technology Center Friday.

The 90-minute event gave people a chance to hear from their elected representatives.

Democratic  Sen. Susan Paddack and Republican Rep. Todd Thomsen spoke and answered questions.

Though they represent opposing parties, both expressed great concern about the leadership of state Superintendent of Education Janet Baressi and the current system of academic testing.

Baressi, who was elected to her position, has the backing of Gov. Mary Fallin, but others in her own Republican Party as well as Democrats  have been critical of Baressi.

Paddack, while acknowledging the state needs to improve its education standards, said the most recent testing will result in 2,200 kids dropping out of school.

“They won’t have anything to do, and that’s a problem,” she said.

She called the current A through F standard a flawed formula. “I’m all for standards, but where did this get off the track?” Paddack asked.

She also pointed out that education funding has been cut in Oklahoma for five straight years. She said parents she’s talked to are concerned about the kind of education kids are getting in Oklahoma.

“We can’t do reform without resources. We need to put more into education,” she said.

Paddack predicted that 5,000 Oklahoma kids will fail the reading proficiency test.

She also said colleges are having to spend too much time and money on remediation classes to make up for what students need academically coming out of high school.

“Right now, I have lots of concerns about Common Core and its leadership,” Thomsen told the luncheon crowd. “Both sides may need to pull together and come up with something else.”

Paddack urged more people to let their elected representatives hear from them.

She pointed out that 416 people voted in the recent county elections, calling that “shameful.”

“I just wish more people were like you people here and were paying more attention. If you don’t participate, you can’t complain,” she said.

Thomsen explained why he voted against another tax cut.

Paddack said the current cuts won’t go into effect until 2016. “The reason they don’t go into effect now, is because the state doesn’t have the money,” she said.

Thomsen also explained his recent vote in the legislature against the tax cut.

“It’s the first time I voted against a tax decrease,” he said. “I believe, right now, the economy is dynamic. Until the state knows more about what its budget will be it’s hard to say what the state’s needs are going to be.”

“Everyone is asking, what is our sweet spot,” he said, referring to legislation and the costs to support proposed changes.

“We’re lean and mean,” Paddack said, discussing the state’s budget.

She voted against lowering property taxes “any more than they’ve already been lowered."

Paddack said some schools are barely operating now with less than $600 operating capitol. Some of these schools aren’t going to be able to keep their doors open if more cuts are made, she said.

Public employees and state troopers need raises, she pointed out. “I was quite proud to vote no on this proposed tax cut. This is no time to to continue cutting (the property tax),” she said.

Paddack said she doesn’t want to be in the position of “taking a few hundred out of one pocket and putting it into another.”

Thomsen spoke out in support of continuing the Film Tax Rebate Extension, though some have said the $5 million annual price tag for attracting film crews to the state is too high a price.

There is a caveat the industry must meet first before collecting any state revenues.

“The film industry must put $3 into the Oklahoma economy for every $1 the state pays,” Thomsen said. Last  year, Thomsen said state revenues from film production crews produced $89 million for that $5 million investment and the potential, he believes, has barely been tapped..

The District 25 representative said Oklahoma’s geography is such that stories from a lot of other states can be told right here.

For example, a movie about Arizona could be made around Lawton with some creative camera work and editing, the state representative said.

The money to lure crews for productions such as last year’s “August: Osage County” which produced Academy Award nominees in Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, and “Home Run” helped the state’s economy in a lot of ways.

Motel expenses, restaurant bills, gasoline, etc. for the film crew brought in revenue for months at a time.

The latest attempt to extend the rebate has not been successful to date, with some legislators preferring to spend those funds elsewhere.

Reach Art Lawler at adanewslawler@cableone.net.

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