The governor last week delivered his annual State of the State Address during the first day of the legislative session.
There was much to applaud in the governor’s speech. He mentioned our work over the past four years of eliminating our budget deficit and replenishing state savings. We’ve boosted economic growth and brought more jobs to the state. We’ve supported law enforcement and cut taxes. We’ve invested in infrastructure and education. Since 2019, over 23,000 new jobs have been created and today, Oklahoma now has the third fastest-growing economy in the nation.
The governor pointed out that we’ve accomplished this by sticking to our conservative principles of smaller government, lower taxes, embracing family and freedom. The governor said our state is the strongest it has ever been. He proposes continued work to make Oklahoma the most business-friendly state in the nation and points to companies from all over the world that have chosen to come to our state to build and expand.
The governor wants to focus on key areas such as energy, infrastructure, workforce development, and tax policy.
He wants to diversify our energy grid and continue our “make more of everything” approach. Oklahoma is currently fifth in the nation for natural gas production and sixth for oil production, and we’re ranked 10th for renewables.
The governor also pointed to several areas of particular interest to the rural areas of our state. These include a commitment to better funding rural health care while seeking overall better health outcomes; broadband internet expansion; securing federal funds to build shoulders along our rural highways to improve safety and speed of transport; better regulations over marijuana growers and distributors.
There are of course some differences of opinion when it comes to what the governor wants and what the Legislature may be willing to deliver. The governor is intent on creating education savings accounts and building more schools to expand school choice options. House Republicans have fought to ensure better education options for all children, expanding open transfer laws and revising the school funding formula so dollars more easily follow the student. But the majority of our caucus is against moving tax dollars from public education to private schools where we don’t have oversight of how those dollars are spent. Also, we feel this would disproportionately favor those in urban and suburban communities versus those who live in rural areas.
The governor also would like to see performance-based pay for teachers. Many in my caucus are not opposed to this, but we have to make sure all teachers are first fully compensated for the work they do. Then we have to ensure our evaluation system for teachers is fair and takes into account factors such as poverty, chronic absenteeism or other outside influences that impede student success.
There’s a lot to digest in the governor’s speech, but I believe we’re off to a great start for this session. The next few weeks will be focused on moving bills through committees before they come to the floor to be heard. I will keep you posted as we progress.