The Pryor Times

March 19, 2013

Revenue won’t meet requirements

Senate Review
Sen. Sean Burrage

— Last month the Board of Equalization certified the state would have an additional $212.6 million to spend in the new budget year compared to the current fiscal year. The reality is that amount doesn’t even come close to being enough to cover the real needs facing Oklahoma.

The Highway Patrol still doesn’t have enough troopers on the road, and to remain competitive they need to be able to improve their pay. The Department of Corrections is also understaffed and underpaid.

Services offered through local health departments have not been made whole. We know we don’t have enough substance abuse programs to serve the state, and much greater access to mental health care is needed as well.

We’ve passed numerous mandates for education but haven’t fully funded them.  Progress made in the last two decades to reduce class size has been eroded if not completely reversed because of inadequate funding. Teachers and support staff, like most state employees, have gone years without any kind of pay increase, even though prices keep on rising.

Tuition costs for Oklahoma students rise every year, with state appropriations constituting an ever smaller percentage of the cost of a college education. At a time when our state leaders have declared that increasing the number of college graduates in our state is a top priority, lack of state funding is actually making it harder for many young people to get a degree.

There’s still the matter of the deteriorating State Capitol Building—aging plumbing and electrical systems and an exterior that is literally falling to pieces have yet to be addressed.

And yet this past week, the majority in the House and in the Senate approved plans to further reduce the state income tax. The House version would reduce the top rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. It would result in losing hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when we don’t really have those dollars to lose.

The Senate plan would lower the top rate from 5.25 percent to 4.75—but to the authors credit, they at least are coupling that with a plan to reform and eliminate targeted tax preferences to reduce the impact of the tax reduction. Still, I contend we cannot afford to remove $250 million from the general revenue fund when we have so many unmet needs in every county of this state.

Until we can fully address the critical needs facing this state, I believe it is irresponsible to pass a tax reduction plan that will at best give most Oklahomans only pennies a day while taking hundreds of millions of dollars away from vital state services.

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: Senator Sean Burrage, 2300 North Lincoln Blvd. Rm. 522, 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.