With more than half of the 2017 legislative session behind us, committee and floor votes in both chambers have been largely focused on legislation dealing with public policy issues in a variety of areas—criminal justice, education, public safety and more. But in addition to meeting deadlines for committee and floor passage of those measures, work has been undertaken on just about a daily basis on the state budget for Fiscal Year 2018, which starts July 1 of this year.
Actually, work on the budget began months before the actual session convened, with leadership holding briefings for members last fall in order to update returning members on the latest revenue collection data as well as to help get newly elected members up to speed before the session began.
We understand the challenge our state is facing. We have $878 million less to appropriate to state agencies in the coming budget compared to a year ago. We also have critical needs in our core services, including education, health and mental health, public safety and transportation. To those who simply say just cut the budget by the size of the shortfall—if we cut every entity outside of those core areas, it still wouldn’t close the budget gap.
We can’t cut our way out of this, and we can’t tax our way out of it, either. We have businesses, individuals and families who are still struggling in the wake of the world-wide drop in oil and gas prices that hit energy states so hard in 2016. Economic recovery has been slow, but massive tax increases could set us back months, even years, in terms of bringing back jobs and boosting our economy. In the Senate, we’ve been focusing on modifying or eliminating tax credits our state cannot afford—credits that cost more than they generate in economic development. Another focus is identifying additional efficiencies in agency and program operations so that the savings can be redirected as needed. We need to continue to look at making reforms in apportionments. Off-the-top funding dedicated to specific areas continues to limit the legislature’s ability to prioritize limited resources during tough budget years.
While it may be a few weeks before we see the final form the budget will take ready for voting, we have been hard at work on other legislation on behalf of our constituents.
We moved quickly at the very beginning of the session to address REAL ID, ensuring Oklahomans will still be able to use their state-issued driver license or identification card for boarding planes or entering federal facilities, such as military basses. That was the first bill signed into law this session.
The second bill signed was one I was the principal Senate author for—the amount of untouched food that is thrown away from school cafeterias each year is disgraceful, but because of concerns about violating health department rules and statutes, that’s what’s been happening. My bill ensures that food, such as fresh apples that were never touched, can be saved and distributed to help Oklahomans in need.
I’ve also continued to work to strengthen Oklahoma’s sexual assault laws to ensure perpetrators are truly held accountable for their crimes. It’s not an easy topic to discuss, but I believe part of the problem is that because of loopholes in our law, too many criminals have gotten away with these vile acts for far too long. These are crimes that can emotionally scar victims for a lifetime. Ensuring justice is served can help victims heal—and holding perpetrators accountable helps ensure they are not free to continue committing these deplorable crimes.
As always, please feel free to contact my Capitol office with any questions or concerns you may have about legislation or other issues impacting our state at 405.521.5628 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.