The budget session and funding for common education headlined Tuesday’s Legislative Breakfast at the Mabel C. Fry Public Library in Yukon.
House District 43 Rep. J.P. Jordan, R-Mustang; HD-60 Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon; State Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City and U.S. Sen. James Lankford representative Steve Carson were in attendance to share the happenings at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City.
Bice said it was a tough budget but there is a perception across the state that state legislators wait until the last minute to work on the budget, which makes for a difficult month of May.
“There is a perception out there that we wait,” Bice said. “That is not the case at all. We start immediately in February and work on it non-stop through May. Of course, there is a lot of activity in May. The main reason is because we don’t know how much money we have, so we have to figure that out before we can allocate the funds. That takes time to figure out.”
With the budget, several state agencies were held harmless, including education, which means there were no budget cuts from common education.
There were roughly 50 agencies that were cut about 5 percent from where they were last year.
Bice said one of the positives that came out of the session was several new policy bills that were passed.
“One bill in particular that I was pleased to get passed was forcing the medical examiners across the state to wait 10 days before they release autopsy information from a deceased person to the media. I would have liked it to be longer but the (Oklahoma) Press Association fought us on that, which I understand. I think 10 days is a reasonable time frame.”
Jordan said this was “Not a pretty session by any means.” The House District 43 representative was vocal about House Democrats not wanting to play ball when it came to the budget.
“The Democrats wanted a special session,” Jordan said. “We invited them throughout the whole process to come and talk and we could have a discussion about everything, but they waited until we were down to the wire.”
One area that Jordan said he was glad didn’t see a tax jump was the Gross Production Tax for the oil and gas industry.
“Oil and gas is in recovery mode right now,” Jordan said. “There were 33,000 jobs that were lost and more than 100,000 jobs affected by the drop in the industry. We had some people who wanted to raise the tax percentage from 2 percent to 7 percent in the GPT. That just didn’t make any sense when it came down to where the industry is at the moment.”
Jordan also said he was glad common education was one of the 15 state agencies that were held harmless and he added that the legislators “learned a lot of lessons from this session.”
Baker said that she was asked by numerous people to vote no on the budget but that she voted yes because she didn’t want the Democrats to get their way and force a special session.
“The Democrats wanted a special session, which would have cost us about $30,000 per day,” Baker said. “If we would have gone to special session like the Democrats were pushing for, we would have had to make more cuts and one of those cuts would have been in common education, which I am proud to say we were able to keep flat.”