BY JOE DORMAN
Governor Fallin’s State of the State address was on Monday. She outlined many lofty goals, but I just do not see how the numbers can add up for everything the governor wants to do, even as well-intentioned as she might be. It is a risky gamble to cut taxes and hope growth revenue remains stable over the coming years, especially as volatile as the world economy remains. I certainly want to see many of these ideas become reality, but I worry that we will not be able to balance the budget without causing harm to other essential programs. I promise you that I will work with my colleagues to achieve as much good this session for the state as we can find in compromise and consensus.
Among her goals, she called for additional reforms to the Workers' compensation system, properly implementing exit exams for high school students before they receive their diploma, lowering tax levels from 5.25 percent to 5 percent for income taxes, along with other future tax cuts which she will propose, modifying pension systems for state employees and promoting energy efficiencies in our state agencies
The Governor suggested a $13.5 million dollar increase for education, along with an $8.5 million supplemental to cover health costs for teachers. I will point out that this is much less than the requested $300 million dollars by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Other issues she addressed included Open Range, a program to allow local schools to consolidate their computer systems amongst school districts, removing underutilized state assets from the state balance sheet, and renovating the State Capitol Building by allocating an initial $10 million to begin needed repairs.
Adequate protections for children who find themselves in state custody will be one of her top requests, such as continuing the DHS Pinnacle Plan, as well as including an additional $50 million to meet their increased needs. Governor Fallin would also like an additional $40 million of state dollars to go to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority in lieu of the $54 million which was offered by the federal government to implement a health care exchange and increased coverage for the uninsured.
The governor is also proposing an initiative to allow municipalities the authority to ban smoking in public places, which is currently not allowed under Oklahoma law. This was a bill which passed the House of Representatives last session, but did not receive a committee hearing in the Senate. Governor Fallin also wants to implement a fitness plan for our state, which would include a workout center located in the State Capitol for employees in the building.
Another portion of her speech included an additional $16 million for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse to better help the agency do their job, while expanding crisis centers in Oklahoma for those who need immediate help. New funds for suicide prevention would also be included, as Oklahoma has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. This was punctuated by a student in Coweta taking his own life on Monday at school. Governor Fallin also asked the legislature to get serious on prescription drug abuse. A recent study shows that 8 percent of Oklahomans abuse pain medication in some fashion, which is almost double the national average. I cannot agree with her more on this point as we must break the cycle of abuse in our state.
I will wrap up this week by thanking those who helped with the fundraiser I coordinated for AutismOklahoma.org on Friday at JJ's Saloon in Oklahoma City. We collected over $14,000 at our “Unspoken Ball” to help with their programs and 100 percent of the funds are guaranteed to go to services, not administration or salaries. Special thanks to Inzinga and Spinozi of 96.9 BOB-FM, the Masters of Ceremonies for the event. I also appreciate the Oklahoma AFL-CIO, The Lost Ogle, the volunteers and attendees, and Rep. Curtis McDaniel, who served as our auctioneer. The auction was huge success with things like two catered meals by Chef Eddie, a teeth whitening by Dr. Stephen Buchanan, framed prints from Bee’s Knees and tickets from Ballet Oklahoma and the OKC Barons.