by Gus Blackwell,
June 4th, 2008
One of the greatest challenges faced during any Session is to design a balanced budget for the State. The amount of money available to spend this year was just about the same as last year. This made the budgeting process even more interesting.
There have been many speculations about the effect of the past tax cuts on this year’s income. Many have faulted these tax cuts as the reason for the flat-line budget. However, the year after the tax cuts were first instituted, the state budget experienced a growth curve of $1 billion dollars. Clearly, there are different factors which must be affecting the state’s economy.
One of those factors is the national economy, which dramatically slowed the state’s growth. The state was experiencing a five percent (5%) growth in all areas, until the fourth quarter. It was at this time the Corporate Income tax experienced a precipitous drop.
State Income tax remained about even, while Sales tax had about a six percent (6%) growth. Of course, the Gross Production taxes saw a huge upswing.
The State was prepared for the static year of growth revenue by having the Rainy Day Fund at capacity. Many argued to utilize this fund for several different uses, this year. It appears to be a much more prudent course to continue to save this fund for a true financial emergency.
Other states did not fare so well. Over sixteen states misaddressed budget shortfalls of $12 billion dollars in their FY 08 budgets. Twenty-three states report budget gaps of $26 billion in FY 09.
The maintenance of budget effort highlights include:
- Provide, at least, a standstill budget to the state’s 80 appropriated agencies;
- Authorizes $120 million in additional appropriations to maintain current Medicaid provider rates, meet eligibility requirements, and preserve participant benefits; to increase prison capacity by 276 beds as recommended by performance audit of the Department of Correction (DOC); to maintain service levels in Advantage Care which allows elderly persons to remain in their homes; and to fulfill education funding commitments such as Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) Remediation Act, National Board Certification for teachers, and Oklahoma Teacher’s Retirement System (OTRS) contributions;
- Fully fund DOC for the first time since FY99, without expectations of a need for supplemental appropriations;
- Increases the Ethics Commission budget by nearly thirty percent (30%) to meet operational increases and information technology improvements; and
- Covers the previously noted shortfall in the Education Revolving Fund to ensure school districts receive full apportionments for the remaining months of FY08, and provides Common Education with an additional $16.1 million through the Ad Valorem Reimbursement Fund to offset school districts’s ad valorem revenue losses, resulting from tax exemptions granted to manufacturers for new or expanded facilities.
I will be at home in Goodwell during the summer where you can contact me. You can still leave a message at my office at the Capitol also if you wish at 405-557-7384. |
May 28th, 2008
The last minutes of the 51st Legislature ticked away late last Friday night as the session came to a close. The motion to adjourn was made at about 10:30 PM by Floor Leader Greg Piatt (R-Ardmore) who handed the microphone to the only term limited Republican who added the words “Sine Die”. These words ended the first session of the second centennial of the state of Oklahoma.
The last week was once again a very hectic time with bills being passed and rejected, amended and reconsidered at a rapid pace. The House did break several times during the day, to give members an opportunity to read the bills that were coming over from the Senate.
These included bills detailing the bond package that had been put together by the Speaker of the House, the Senate, and the Governor. These three bond packages were each presented separately and contained very different material. They covered roads, higher education, and conservation measures.
One of the most common complaints that I receive from the people in this district is to fix the roads. A week doesn’t pass in which at least one person, and usually several, speak to me about roads. The first bond issue to be considered put together two $150 million dollar bond deals to allow ODOT to accelerate the eight year road plan that they have adopted.
Included in the package was a component that I had lobbied hard to be included. This was a $25 million dollar package for county roads. This will allow county commissioners to borrow from this fund in emergencies and then pay back into the fund as they can. On the last night of negotiations this was included in the package.
The bonds are for 15 years and will have an interest of less than 5%. Compare that to the rate of inflation for building materials which is almost double that amount and the amount of money that will be saved is about $50 million dollars.
Although this will not fix every road immediately, it will make sure that every road that is on the plan to get fixed will be done sooner. The Director of ODOT told me that he would be in our area during the 3rd week of June. He will be driving the raods in this district and talking to people about roads. I know he has already scheduled a meeting in Guymon and is open to meeting with other groups as well.
The next bond package that passed the House dealt with three projects. Twenty five million dollars went into each of three projects. The first and most important for this area was money that went into the Conservation District plan. This was to repair dams and other flood control projects essential to the Conservation Districts in our state.
Another $25 million went to dams and flood control on the Arkansas River near Tulsa. The final component went to fund the states obligation for the Native American Cultural Center in Oklahoma City.
The final bond package went to fulfill the promise legislators made to Higher Education several years ago. This $100 million was to match the money given by private donors to endowed chairs. Although I was not thrilled about this package, it did have a provision that ended this matching program.
I will be at home in Goodwell during the summer where you can contact me. You can still leave a message at my office at the Capitol also if you wish at 405-557-7384.
May 21st 2008
As the last week of session comes to a close, the action on the House floor continues unabated. The House will adjourn sine die on Friday and this will end the 51st Oklahoma Legislature.
This session, the House has passed significant legislation. Areas such as Government reform, education, and building stronger families have been addressed.
In the area of Government reform there were several bills;
* SB 1553: Authorizes creation of Enterprise Agencies to provide extra incentives for agencies which implement cost savings and/or better delivery of services.
* SB 1807 Centralizes the state’s information systems and information technology as well as the financial and management information services for the state.
* SB 1038 Requires the State Regents to make publicly available on their web site any reports regarding tuition and fees at the state’s higher education institutions, plus copies of any audits conducted for the institutions.
In the area of education there were several bills to increase standards and improve accountability, including:
* SB 2100: Provides parents more options in their children’s education by allowing 10 schools across the state to voluntarily deregulate from state mandates in an effort to achieve better results.
* SB 1795: Brings more accuracy to the disbursement of lottery funds by placing collected lottery revenue in an account to be distributed monthly to Oklahoma’s schools and universities instead of relying on projected revenue.
* HB 3118: Expands the Academic Achievement Award program to allow more teachers to receive bonuses for helping their school rank as either the highest performing or for having achieved the greatest gains among state schools. (A school from this district has won an award as the highest performing every year.)
Several bills also help promote stronger and healthier families by improving their physical well-being and increasing public safety:
* SB 1600 Increases punishment for crimes or abuse against an elderly or incapacitated person.
* HB 2704: Keeps registered sex-offenders out of nursing home facilities by establishing a separate facility for these offenders.
*HB 2469: Protects visitation rights of grandparents in the event of the death of a parent or in adoption proceedings.
I will be at the Capitol until Friday of this week and then can be reached at my home in Goodwell, during the summer.
State Representative Gus Blackwell (R-Goodwell) has announced he will be seeking re-election to the House of Representatives from District 61. In only his third term he is presently serving as Speaker Pro Tempore. This marks only the second time anyone from this district has served in this capacity during the 101 year history of the State of Oklahoma.
Representative Blackwell has made his mark in several key areas during his short tenure in the House. During his second term, he was the Chairman of the Corrections and Criminal Justice Committee. He presently is serving as Chair of the State Sentencing Commission and also as Chair of the State-wide Gang Task Force.
As Speaker Pro Tempore, he is the number two person in the House of Representatives. He is an ex officio member of every committee and presides over the action on the floor of the House. “It has been a great honor to serve my district in this capacity and bring the problems of the panhandle area straight to leadership’s attention, both in the House and in the Senate,” stated Rep. Blackwell. “I plan to run again for this position next term and still have four years in which I could serve as Speaker should I be so blessed.”
Speaker Pro Tempore Blackwell serves in the largest House district which comprises almost 8,000 square miles and encompasses four complete counties and parts of two others.
“I have been privileged to serve not just a part of my district, but all of it from Kenton to Fort Supply,” said Rep. Blackwell. My greatest reward as your State Legislator has been helping constituents with their problems and needs for the past six years.”
Several awards have also highlighted the work and passion of Representative Blackwell. Last year he earned the distinction of being selected the outstanding Legislator by the District Attorney Council. This year he was awarded the Meritorious Service Award by Farm Bureau as House Legislator of the year.
“My greatest accomplishment though, has been helping the people in this district by getting legislation passed to bring transmission lines for wind energy to this area,” said Rep. Blackwell. The reason I ran my first term is the reason I am still running said Rep. Blackwell. “That is to make this district a place where children can grow up, stay, and raise their families here as well.”