State agencies are looking at another 5 percent slash across the board this year, thanks to the passage of an income tax cut signed by Gov. Mary Fallin last month.
Tax cuts, flat budgets, temper tantrums and vetoes were the topics of discussion at the May Legislative Focus Friday, held at the Restaurant of the Cherokees and sponsored by the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, said if lawmakers could only agree on the budget, the session could end before May winds down.
“Unfortunately this week – well, I don’t think the governor was having a very good day Wednesday,” said Brown. “She vetoed 15 bills without even looking at them, and her world kind of crumbled around her. We worked all day long Wednesday on the NRA bill she vetoed that would require a shorter waiting period on background checks, and we overrode it. You have the governor, the House and the Senate, all led by the same party, and they’re fighting among themselves. We’re just sitting on the sidelines watching them chew each other up.”
Brown said Fallin wasted valuable resources when she vetoed the bills.
“When she vetoed those 15 bills, she took out hundreds of hours of peoples’ work out with the stroke of a pen,” said Brown. “A lot of time and a lot of money were wasted due to her temper tantrum. She was unhappy because we wouldn’t pass her bill for charter schools. Well, the companies interested in opening those schools were all from out of state, and they stood to make a windfall profit. Her job is to veto bills on merit, not on her political agenda.”
Brown said legislators working on the budget are facing a $188 million shortfall, but they would first have to deal with a $380 million tax cut.
“When you spend your money unwisely and save paying your bills for last, it’s not good,” said Brown. “Their idea is to cut every single state agency another 5 percent and hold common education harmless. These are some of the worst times for the budget I’ve ever seen. They say the tax cut will pay for itself in economic growth. Well, the economy is not growing at a rate to do that. It’s grown .78 percent, not even 1 percent, and you’re going to ram in another budget cut all in the name of driving the economy?”
Brown believes corrections, health care and other agencies have been told to “suck it up” for far too long.
“We’ve got 40,000 new kids enrolled in our schools, and teachers are leaving our state because we don’t pay a living wage,” said Brown.“And now we don’t even want to pay for operating costs. Another 5 percent cut will make it hard for those agencies to provide core services.”
Brown referenced Will Rogers, who said, “When you’re in the hole, it’s time to quit digging.”
“Well, when we’re in the hole, we just get a bigger shovel,” said Brown.
Rep. Will Fourkiller, D-Westville, said he was proud of defeating Senate Bill 573, which would have allowed charter schools in every county in the state.
“There are a lot of out-of-state businesses pushing for that bill,” said Fourkiller.
“We worked hard, and are keeping our money here.”
Fourkiller said he was proud to have been part of history in overriding the first veto of a bill by a Republican governor.
“It was a first for me,” said Fourkiller. “And it was a very interesting process.”
The final Legislative Focus for the 2014 session will be held at 7:30 a.m., Friday, June 6, at a location to be determined.