Another very busy week came to an end at the House of Representatives last week. Little was done to address the financial woes of the State, while the bad news about the budget continued to mount.
Just a few days ago the State had to declare another revenue failure, where Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger (R) declared “Our revenues are difficult at best, and maybe they fall into the category of pathetic. Our situation is dire. I beg you to have an appreciation for the situation we have before us.”
This declaration will result in another $34.6 million being cut from our budget for the remainder of this fiscal year (March through June), including a $11.1 million reduction for the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
On the heels of this disaster, the State’s credit rating was downgraded for the first time in 30 years. Standard and Poor’s Ratings (S&P), an independent, nonpartisan and credible third party, based the downgrade on our persistently weak revenue collections (not enough tax money coming in) and the legislature’s continued reliance on one-time budget solutions to balance our budget.
Sounds like S&P has been reading my Capitol Greetings columns for the last couple of years! S&P also warned of further downgrades if we continue to use these gimmicks and don’t try to fix these problems. That simply means it is going to be more expensive for the State to borrow money.
For instance, the $70 M that the Capitol Improvement Authority needs to borrow right now to continue the efforts to save the Capitol building will be at a higher interest rate.
The $400 M the Governor is proposing we borrow to “balance” next year’s budget will be more expensive. I still don’t get that - that is Washington, D.C. talk - how can you have a “balanced budget” by borrowing $400 M? It violates our state Constitution.
So, we have over a billion-dollar shortfall for next year’s budget over this year’s budget, this year’s budget was a lie to begin with as we only funded a handful of agencies for 10 months instead of twelve and didn’t include numerous other expenses that we will have to pay (to the tune of more than $100 M), and we have to borrow another $70 M to fix the building.
On top of that, our projected income for this year is now $34.6 M short. And now the legislature has promised teachers a $1,000 raise this next year, $2,000 more the following year and $3,000 more the year after that, WITH NO MONEY TO FUND ANY OF THAT!
An inquisitive citizen just might want to know what the legislature is doing to try to fix these giant problems? Well, here you go: to show Secretary Doerflinger and those concerned citizens that we have “an appreciation for the situation we have before us” the A&B committee passed a cigarette tax hike of $1.50 per pack.
But that was weeks ago and it still has not come up on the floor. That leads me to believe leadership has counted their votes and realize there are not enough votes to pass it. Aside from that, the House (remember revenue raising bills have to originate in the House) has taken the bold steps to increase subpoena fees by $25, created a new civil court fee of $25 for a “motion to enter,” imposed a $100 per year electric car fee and a $30 per year hybrid car fee. Cumulatively, these fees might raise a paltry couple of million dollars a year.
By the way, do you remember State Question 640? That was an initiative petition the voters approved back in the 1990's that required any revenue raising bill be passed by the voters or a super majority (3/4 of both houses of the legislature) to be able to go into effect.
Well, the House has an interesting new rule this year that says a bill is not a “revenue raising bill,” unless the House Majority Floor Leader declares it to be, and so as long as we call it a “fee” and not a “tax,” and he doesn’t declare it to be a revenue raising bill, then it is not a revenue raising bill; therefore we don’t have to do what SQ 640 requires, even if it designed solely to raise revenue. HOGWASH!
As totally inadequate as these bills are, they will all be thrown out anyway because we have once again failed to do what the State Constitution requires us to do!!
But that is okay, because it will once again give those legislators that love to hate the Courts one more opportunity to complain about how corrupt and evil the Courts are and argue that we need to change the system on appointing appellate judges so that they are political puppets of the party in charge of everything else in the State. Yes, it was another good week at the Capitol.
But it was another big week for some of the good folks from my District at the Capitol. But first, and I sincerely apologize for this: in last week’s column, I failed to mention that the Miami News Record’s own Kim Barker won the State Conservation District’s annual press award for her coverage of local conservation activities and Grant Victor and his family’s award last year.
This week we had a large selection of AP students from M.H.S., under the guidance of David Bindel and Richard Patterson come to OKC where I had the pleasure of introducing them from the floor of the House of Representatives.
After touring the Capitol, they toured the OKC Bombing Memorial Museum. I had another page this week, Dillon Rasberry, from M.H.S.
He was elected as Speaker of House for the pages’ mock legislature and then, for the second week in a row, I am proud to announce the House District 7 page went on to be chosen as the Page of the Week. For those who are concerned about the future of our country, let me reassure you we have great leaders coming down the pipeline. Congratulations to all!
Hebrews 10:24 Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Rep. Ben Loring (R-Miami) represents District 7 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. For more information, persons interested may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-557-7399.