The Pryor Times

Opinion

May 30, 2014

Law passes for Capitol repairs

PRYOR, OK — The 2014 legislative session has adjourned, and one of the most important pieces of legislation of the year was taken up by the Senate for final passage on the last day—the $120 million bond package to finally begin the long-overdue repairs of the state Capitol building. It’s been something we’ve tried to do in the Senate for the past few years, but finally last week, the House agreed to approve a bond package, and not a moment too soon.

Just days before that agreement was reached, a four pound piece of concrete broke away from a rusted section of rebar, crashing through the ceiling and hitting the desk of a House staffer—fortunately it happened on the weekend, or someone could have been seriously injured. It’s disgraceful that the building was allowed to fall into such disrepair, but finally the restoration and repair work can begin.

The budget for the new fiscal year was disappointing in many regards, but certainly the fact that there was $188 million less to appropriate this year was a big part of that. There was some additional education funding for public schools, although not anything close to what was needed. Higher education, CareerTech, and Mental Health were given standstill budgets, while other entities received some cuts. The budget did include the funding required for Oklahoma’s program to improve the foster care system, known as the Pinnacle Plan.

I’m glad we were able to provide funding for more than 12,000 state employees to get raises, including corrections officers, state troopers, child abuse case workers, and more than 7,000 of the lowest paid state workers. There are thousands of other state workers who are deserving of raises, as are Oklahoma teachers. I hope that is a priority for lawmakers in the coming session.

Most lawmakers, including myself, were very glad to see the House and Senate override the governor’s veto of changes made to the Reading Sufficiency Act.  The removal of the single high-stakes testing provision that would impact the majority of third-graders scoring unsatisfactory was a much-needed improvement, as was making sure that the local schools, teachers and parents had greater input in the process.

I was very disappointed by the passage of the pension reform bill that to switch future state employees to a 401(k)-style retirement plan.  Unlike a defined benefit plan, a defined contribution plan is much more vulnerable to economic changes—another downturn like the one that sparked the Great Recession could result in state employees’ retirement savings being wiped out.  It’s a bad deal for Oklahoma.

However, I want to say that even though I have disagreed with many of my fellow members on policy, what I would like people to know is that I do respect my colleagues. There is camaraderie in the Senate that many Oklahomans may not be aware of. Members genuinely care about one another, and take a great interest in one another’s lives, and those of their families. These friendships transcend party lines, age, gender, race and geographic boundaries. We may disagree about how to do it, but we all want to do everything we can to make Oklahoma the best it can be.

 Again, I want to thank everyone in this district for the privilege of serving you in the State Senate, and I wish the best of luck to Representative Marty Quinn who will follow me in representing District 2. I hope his time in the Upper Chamber will be as fulfilling and memorable as mine has been.         

Thanks again for reading my “Senate Review.” If you have any questions on a legislative matter, please do not hesitate to contact my Senate office at the Capitol by calling (405) 521-5555 or writing me with your concerns at: Sen. Sean Burrage, 2300 North Lincoln Blvd. Rm. 537, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK 73105. I always enjoy hearing from my constituents and consider it an honor to be your voice in the Oklahoma State Senate. May God bless each of you.

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