May 26, 2010

Mood tense, but not at risk of progress

The Express-Star

— We are in the final week of the legislative session for 2010.  All my remaining bills have been passed by the House and await a hearing in the Senate or are on the desk of Governor Henry. 

All pieces of legislation must be passed by both bodies by 5 p.m. on Friday as this is the Constitutional limit set for the legislature to conclude their business. 

The mood has been tenuous at times, but things are still moving through the system, often times with much discussion, as it should be in this process. 

I have been working with both Democrats and Republicans to find compromise on several issues in conference committees and hopefully achieve good policy.

The budget discussions were mainly concluded late on Friday evening. 

An agreement was reached by the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate on how to spend the current dollars available and what revenue sources would be used to make up for the shortfall. 

There was legislation passed to place a two-year moratorium on various tax credits to find additional revenue. This was quite a bit different than the proposal offered by the Democratic legislators to reduce by a percentage many more tax credits and spread out the reductions so as to not cripple any of them by cutting too deeply. 

I worry about several of the programs which will lose their credits over two years and could potentially cost the state many businesses and jobs.

Another part of the budget agreement was to place a 1 percent assessment on medical insurance claims to fund the State Medicaid program. This bill passed on Friday, but did not receive enough votes to qualify should the courts declare this a tax increase instead of a fee and it also did not receive the required two-thirds vote to go into effect immediately. 

Another problem which will be faced in a lawsuit with this bill is that the legislative leadership did not pass this completely until Monday, and Friday was the final day to consider a revenue-raising measure under Article 5, Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution.  

This was a part of the budget agreement negotiated by the leaders, but these flaws will most likely cause this to not become enacted by the courts and will leave the state with a revenue shortfall of around $75 million. 

In other words, the legislature did not really pass a balanced budget and I expect the House and Senate will have to take action to fix this sometime during the next session. 

This is very frustrating to me when all but four legislators were left out of the budget discussion until the final six working days we had this session and this was the only option presented to the general membership. 

I intend to file an interim study to pursue more budget discussions regarding the upcoming cuts later this fiscal year and hopefully avoid future problems such as this.

I was honored to have several visitors from the district visit the Capitol last week.  Paula Ackley and Raynelle Rose stopped by to watch Senator Ivester and me during our session and we had a great visit, and I was able to catch up with Amy, Raynelle’s daughter, with whom I attended grade school. 

Dr. Dale Smith of Elgin served as the Doctor of the Day for the Capitol.  When he purchased a tour of the Capitol from the Elgin FFA a couple of years ago, I’m pretty sure he didn’t know he was going to have to work when that was paid off.

Senator Barrington and I also had the great privilege of honoring the Class A Baseball State Champion Fletcher Wildcats at the Capitol. It was great to visit with the team, coaches and staff and recognize their great achievement.

Joe Dorman can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is at work. His mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet.