Oklahoma’s legislative session begins in a couple of weeks. Lawmakers will have to grapple with an estimated $900 million budget shortfall, low levels of education funding, and a crowded prison system, among other problems.
KGOU’s Dick Pryor spoke with eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley about the upcoming session.
On filling a $900 million budget hole:
A number of people are talking about a number of different ways to do that. The governor, for example, has mentioned looking in particular at the sales tax code. She has a couple of ideas in that area. One way would be to eliminate some of the sales tax exemptions that exist. In total, there are more than $8 billion of exemptions. A big part of that is the so-called manufacturers exemption. So when someone makes a shirt, they don’t pay a sales tax on the thread used to sew that shirt together. That accounts for about half of it, and that would probably stay in place.
But the other $4 billion of sales tax exemptions cover a wide variety of things that simply are transactions that are not sales taxed. And she would like to look at eliminating some of those. The other part of that is expanding the sales tax base to include some services and some products that currently are not covered in Oklahoma but are covered in other states, particularly surrounding states. She’s yet to put a number to that, but she likely will do so in her executive budget on February 6.
On funding the state’s prisons:
The Department of Corrections has asked for a budget in excess of $1 billion. They received $484 million for the current fiscal year, so they are looking at more than doubling their budget. When you look at the top five agencies that recently appeared before the House Appropriations and Budget Committee in a series of House-wide budget hearings, there was more than $600 million that was being sought there. So you start stacking all these number together, the numbers of the money we know we’re not going to have and the those figures for what agencies are wanting, you’re well over a billion dollars in money that is needed, just to keep government operating the way the agency heads say it needs to be operated.
Is 2017 the year for a teacher pay raise?
There are a lot of bills that would lead to a pay raise for teachers and a number of different ways they are talking about doing that. I think one of the main proposals is going to come out of the House. A bill was filed that would implement a series of raises over a number of years. The issue, of course, like everything else, is funding that - exactly where you’re going to get that revenue. However, the Speaker of the House Charles McCall, says that’s the approach he prefers and it’s likely to get a lot of interest.
On sexual harassment allegations against Rep. Dan Kirby:
Well, one house staffer told me as all that was getting going, as they were beginning the committee hearings, that it has sort of bogged down the operations with the House. Keep in mind the story broke involving Rep. Kirby in sort of a transition period, after the previous Speaker’s term had ended and before McCall’s term had actually begun. So he’s had to focus a lot of attention on that and it has slowed things down for them.
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