No single elected official can control every piece of legislation and every aspect of the budget. It’s a collaborative process involving two legislative chambers representing 149 districts and the governor. Keep in mind those legislators represent very diverse areas of the state—there are urban versus rural disagreements, and at times, pointed partisan disagreements. The governor and members of the legislature may have completely opposing views about the best way to manage the business of the state. Yet by the end of the session, the majority of those lawmakers must come together to make sure a balanced budget is written, approved and then signed into law by the governor.
We knew this session would be a difficult one even before it began. Oklahoma was facing a budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion. There were those who proposed raising an equal amount of revenue to balance the budget, while some took the opposite stance, calling for cutting $1 billion. Either of these extremes would have been disastrous for Oklahoma’s economy.
From the very beginning, the Senate proposed a measured, thoughtful approach which utilized reforming tax credits and preferences, identifying greater efficiencies, and reforming off-the-top, or apportionments which designate specific percentages or amounts of revenue to go straight to a specific fund or agency—the problem is it restricts the legislature’s ability to prioritize funding to better respond to economic changes. We also called for continued efforts to reform the budgeting process. Having made those our first priority, the last step in closing the budget gap would be then to consider options for creating revenue streams.
Ultimately, utilizing all of those approaches, we were able to forge a budget that avoided cuts to common education, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and the Department of Public safety while keeping other agency cuts to an average of less than five percent.
While the budget was in the spotlight for much of the session, several important public policy measures were also approved. The first measure to be approved and signed into law in 2017 was a bill bringing Oklahoma into compliance with the federal REAL ID law, ensuring state-issued IDs can still be used for Oklahomans for commercial domestic flights and for entry into federal buildings and installations. We also approved economic development bills that will create thousands of new jobs; criminal justice reform; legislation to better support our veterans and active duty military; and legislation to better protect children, women and families.
I was proud to be the Senate principal author of many of these measures, and will provide more detailed information about them in the coming weeks.
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.