I would talk to you this week about the state budget, but firm details have yet to emerge.
Appropriations and budget subcommittees are meeting daily with state agencies to determine budget priorities for the next fiscal year, but actual revenue measures have not come forward in the House yet.
At the caucus meeting this week, we looked at incentives that could be pulled back as well as revenue raising measures. I along with many others decided early on we would vote for what is best for the state and not base our votes on getting re-elected.
We’re constitutionally required to have a balanced budget by the end of the legislative session, and I know we’ll have one, but how much of a budget gap we have and what we have to do to close it remains to be seen.
I do want to address the borrowing of more than $240 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. This was done by the state finance secretary, a member of the executive, not the legislative branch of government.
Without permission by or even notification to the Legislature, the secretary borrowed the money to pay the state’s monthly bills. The state Constitution is pretty specific about how money from this fund can be appropriated and how much.
At issue is whether the secretary acted within his authority because he was borrowing and not appropriating the money. After being questioned about this by House and Senate leadership, the secretary has asked for an opinion from the newly appointed state attorney general. I look forward to that.
The money will have to be replaced before the end of the fiscal year. The finance secretary is planning to use April tax funds and end-of-year receipts to replenish the fund.
Also this week, several fellow representatives staged a press conference to discuss concerns they have with the care of veterans in our state’s seven veterans’ centers.
It seemed to me this was a political stunt and a personal attack against Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, who was brought in to solve some of the problems at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA).
Had this group of lawmakers wanted to address issues or truly had concerns, they are elected officials; they could have called the attorney general or legislative liaison and requested a formal investigation.
They could have used the newly formed House and Senate Veterans’ Caucus to determine the issues and how best to address them. Instead they held a big press conference asking the media to help them get out their message.
I feel that this was based off of a disagreement and personal feelings towards Gen. Deering and his request to move the Talihina Veterans Home. I’m not saying that there are not problems within the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, and there is not a member here in either chamber that doesn’t want what is best for our Veterans, but this is just not the best way to handle issues with state agencies in my opinion.
The bill to relocate the Talihina Veterans Home failed last week in committee, I am not on the committee that considered this bill, but I did attend the meeting. I was embarrassed at the conduct during the committee to say the least.
Those opposed to the move spent lots of time discussing the facility, the town of Talihina, employees and family members but what I did not hear was talk about the veterans and their wellbeing.
I see these same members support agencies on a daily basis based on funding or personnel requests, but when the head of the agency that is in charge of the health and wellbeing of our Veterans presents facts stating why we need to move this facility; the members somehow decide they know more than the experts.
We failed our Veterans last week and now risk losing 175 beds for Oklahoma veterans.
We do have some problems to address, but the ODVA has brought in someone to address them. Instead of attacking the man and his staff, let’s study their plan to improve and work with them to help change this system so our Oklahoma veterans get the best care when they need it.
Rep. Josh West, (R-Grove), serves District 5 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. For more information, persons interested may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-557-7415.