HD 47 hopefuls answer questions about state’s future

Voters in Mustang will go to the polls next Tuesday to decide several races, including the office of House District 47. The candidates are Republican Brian Hill, a local business owner, and Democrat Sarah Carnes, a school teacher.
The Mustang News recently posed a series of questions to the two candidates. Below are their emailed responses.
MUSTANG NEWS: Why are you running for office?
BRIAN HILL: Oklahoma is in a position of crisis and the solutions to move us in the right direction will not come easy.  It is necessary for our next representative to have a broad view of the issues, not just a singular subject focus.  By seeking sustainable revenue opportunities and pursuing greater efficiencies throughout our vast state departments, I will be a pro economic growth representative who will seek solutions to the issues we are facing.  I am a conservative Republican business owner with vast experience across multiple sectors. I believe in Local and I will work for solutions to better fund our systems for long-term growth.
SARA CARNES: During the teacher walkout in April, I was frustrated by how our elected officials have repeatedly short-changed Oklahoma students and teachers by under-funding education. I’m running because someone has to stand up and ensure our concerns are represented. I’m not a handpicked cookie-cutter candidate that regurgitates tired political talking points. I’m an everyday citizen ready to take action and implement solutions.
My collaboration, problem-solving skills and leadership experience have prepared me to serve my community as your Representative. If elected, I’ll always reflect on my core Oklahoma values when making decisions and championing legislation that positively impacts House District 47 constituents. We can’t afford the “business as usual” mentality. Repeating failed policies and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.
MN: Education represents more than 50 percent of Oklahoma’s budget. Do you believe it is sufficiently funded and what else needs to be accomplished?
BH: I recently spoke at a local school as a guest speaker.  When I asked the students to take out a sheet of paper for a team building demonstration, they giggled.  The teacher explained that her classroom does not have “extras” such as paper. …  Simply stated, No.  The education of our students is not sufficiently funded. I am convinced that the only way to properly fund education is by diversifying our economy.  We must work towards funding education for the next 10 years, not just next year’s budget.  That can only happen by developing our local economy in HD47 into markets (Technology, Aerospace, Manufacturing) that will produce the sustained ad valorem which is equivalent to the rapid growth of our school district.
SC: We must enable our citizens to focus on “career security” instead of “job security.” Creating a foundation of current competencies and expanding skills requires adequate education resources. If we don’t change our course, we risk a stagnant economy where other states leave us in the dust! If elected, I’ll immediately propose legislation that supports and fully funds educational needs.
Neighboring states invest substantially more in K-12 education and so should Oklahoma. Annual investments in education appropriations must be increased to help Oklahoma reach par within our region, specifically increasing per-student spending as well as teacher and support staff salaries. In addition, we must increase transparency in this process to increase taxpayer understanding of how public education is funded and exactly how funds are invested.
MN: Should the Gross Production Tax be increased? Why?
SH: The Oklahoma gross production tax is a well-established levy on the production of oil and gas, initiated not long after statehood. I support a reasonable increase and adjusting the proportion of the gross production tax that’s allocated to education. For example, only a small portion (1 percent) of this revenue is allocated to counties and school districts. A 2 percent increase would double funding.
To put this tax into perspective, it’s ranked the fifth largest state government revenue source. The other top sources include personal income tax, sales tax, motor vehicle tax and motor fuel tax. An increase of any of these four taxes would significantly impact the budgets of everyday citizens, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet.
BH: No.  At 5 percent, although production of new sites has already declined with some operations, we are still comparable to the GPT of others states such as Texas.  However, if we increase the GPT up to 7 percent or more, as suggested by some candidates, the loss of new development could be devastating for our economy.  Should our largest industry find that other states are more profitable and they decided to halt new drilling, not only would our states tax revenue take a volatile hit, but also the decline would be felt on a local level through decreased ad valorem and in the funding of our schools.  We must remain focused at diversifying our economy rather than continuing to increase taxes on current industries.
MN: What should the state do to reduce its high incarceration rate?
BH: We must evaluate the scale by which we decide how many years an individual will serve for an offense.  I find it deplorable that an individual who is intoxicated on his second DUI can run into a college student, resulting in that young man’s death, but only serves four years while a mom of three can be convicted and sentenced to 30 years for failure to protect, after also being beaten by the man that beat her children, yet he only served two years.  Since announcing my candidacy, I have learned of many stories such as these two from law enforcement officers who are concerned by these inconsistencies in our justice system.
SC: It’s critical that Oklahoma develops and implements a strategy to improve the corrections system. Adopting criminal justice best practices is the first step to simultaneously protect public safety and save our state money. Changing the laws and policies that drive the rate of prisoners into and out of the corrections system is imperative.
Incarceration reforms are necessary, including evaluating lengthy sentences and reclassifying low-level felonies to misdemeanors. Re-entry reforms should emphasize graduated strategies, including expanding probation eligibility, streamlining parole review processes, and increasing the use of monitored probation and supervised parole. Importance must be placed on enabling ex-prisoners to develop the skills to successfully re-enter society and prevent the commission of other crimes.
MN: Should Oklahoma seek Medicaid expansion? Why?
SC: Wellness, nutrition, and mental health needs are crucial to Oklahoma families. Children and the elderly are Oklahoma’s most vulnerable populations. If elected, I will advocate for the well-being and health of all our citizens.
It’s time to be proactive. Medicaid expansion has the potential to lower the uninsured rate, provide gains in health coverage, and improve the physical health and quality of life for our citizens. When Oklahoman’s have access to adequate health insurance, they are less likely to delay seeking healthcare services, don’t skip taking critical medications because of cost, and seek care from primary sources rather than expensive emergency room visits.
BH: No. After considerable research, I am convinced that any suggested benefit from the expansion of the program would not be sufficient to adjust for the increase in healthcare cost for Oklahomans or the additional $100 million tax burden on our state’s citizens.

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