This is deadline week at the State Capitol. All House bills must receive action by Thursday, March 11, or they are ?dead? for the session. There are some really bad bills that I will address this week. It could honestly take me five days to report, but I will try to squeeze it into just one.
First, I want to clear up a huge misunderstanding. On Monday, Bradley Hamilton, A.J. Bristow, and Wayne Sexton came by after attending a district cattlemen?s meeting. While at this district meeting, they were told that Governor Henry was going to remove the agriculture sales tax exemption. The origin of this comes from Governor Henry?s State of the State Address, when he presented the state budget. He presented the shortfall of funding and then noted that tax credits given to corporations and individuals have contributed significantly to the budget deficit. Nowhere in his speech did he include agricultural sales tax exemptions. This is false information given out to our local cattlemen, and I just wanted to clear the air.
As I report on the following bills, keep in mind that Oklahoma has a $1.3 billion deficit in this year?s budget and is looking at $1.6 billion for 2011. These projected numbers will lead to double digit cuts in state agencies. Furloughs will occur, and teachers will be terminated. Teachers who still have a job will see their class size balloon.
One of the biggest ?bad? bills is House Bill 3220 by Speaker Chris Benge(R-Tulsa). This bill authorizes a new turnpike for Tulsa. Speaker Benge said, ?Tulsa is one of the most under-developed areas of the State of Oklahoma.? What an incredulous statement! He needs to visit Southeast Oklahoma. This bill is nothing more than a special deal for a special district. This will allow unelected officials (Turnpike Authority) to build new roads. This is horrible public policy!
House Bill 2649 by Representative George Faught (R-Muskogee) creates the Oklahoma Music Trails Act. This Act will place signs at notable music sites throughout Oklahoma. The cost will be $1 million over the next five years. Just the signs will cost $10,000.00 each! I would rather see that money go to our REAP Grant Programs. This bill is a huge boondoggle and certainly not a wise use of tax dollars in the current budget picture.
House Bill 2753 by Representative Lee Denney (R-Cushing) is this year?s Charter School Bill. In the past, charter school statutes allowed for charter schools only in Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties. This bill will allow any school that is on the need for improvement list to become a charter school. The author said she thought there was only one school on the improvement list when there are actually 12 schools in rural Oklahoma on that list. Charter schools take money from public education at a time when we are cutting funding for our schools.
A really good bill that passed the Senate Floor was Senate Bill 2087 on which Lieutenant Governor Candidate and Senator Kenneth Corn (D-Poteau) added an amendment. His amendment will reduce salaries of state elected officials if there is a reduction of state employees pay. I agree with this and look forward to this Senate bill arriving on the House Floor.
Now to the consolidation of state agencies: The Governor and Speaker Benge both said in their early addresses to the Legislature that they wanted to ?streamline? government by combining certain agencies. They crawled out on this limb before they knew how much weight this limb could handle. Speaker Benge first wanted to combine the Conservation Commission under the Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, the Speaker didn?t realize that the Conservation Commission is in the State Constitution, and he can?t change the Constitution on a whim. The Speaker then wanted to combine the Liquid Petroleum Gas Commission with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. He didn?t realize that the propane lobby was as strong as it is. It would only save the State $200,000; even that amount is questionable.
Finally, they combined the Scenic Rivers Commission with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. The huge irony about the consolidation of these two agencies is that it is not saving ?money? but rather saving ?face.?
I apologize for the length of this Capitol Greeting, but you need to know what is going on. A reliable source informed me of important information in regard to Lake Sardis. Oklahoma City is going to file a permit requesting an additional 51,000 acre feet per year (a/f/yr), adding to a 2007 request of 85,000a/f/yr, which would bring their total to 136,000a/f/yr. From the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pertinent Data Book, Sardis Lake total yield is 156,000a/f/yr. Including the amount of water that has already been permitted, this means Oklahoma City is applying for 90.8% of available water.
The reason I will be filing a protest with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board is not only for the large volume Oklahoma City is requesting but also because a large number of residents, within close proximity of the lake, live on pond water. I urge a large scale letter writing campaign by those who share my views. Please address complaints to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Permitting Division, 3800 N. Classen Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73118-2862.
Visitors this week were: Jim Grego, Wilburton Soil Conservation; Bradley Hamilton, Wayne Sexton and A.J. Briston; Ernie and Kaye Cauthron of Wister OREA; Kent Wilkins of McAlester OWRB; Brandon Lopez, O.S.P., Kenny Smith, O.S.P. and Randy Lopez, D.O.C.; Dr. Jeff Duff, McAlester; Danny Balwin and crew from Wilburton KEDDO; Steve and Cynthia Henrichs from McAlester CWA/OSWU; Sheila Martin from McAlester National Association of Social Workers. Thanks for the visit. Please come by my office in Oklahoma City, Room 504, or call my Capitol Office at 405-557-7381
May God bless each of you.