Teacher pay, tax hikes top Oklahoma Legislature’s agenda
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A pay raise for teachers plus tax hikes to pay for it and patch budget holes will be among the top priorities facing the Oklahoma Legislature when it convenes Monday for its 2018 session.
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin will deliver her eighth and final State of the State address to the GOP-controlled Legislature early Monday afternoon and is likely to focus on those two issues, which she has made a priority in recent years, along with efforts to curb the state’s growing prison population.
Some things to keep in mind for the legislative session scheduled to run through May 25.
The Legislature’s top priority is writing a budget for the next fiscal year, but lawmakers still haven’t finished the current budget. Because a cigarette tax approved last year was tossed by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, the Legislature hasn’t fully funded three major agencies: the Department of Human Services, Department of Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Health Care Authority, the state’s Medicaid agency.
On top of that, the Legislature is facing an unexpected $30 million bill this year to support the medical schools at the state’s top two universities after a loss of federal Medicaid funding.
NEXT YEAR’S BUDGET
Because the current year’s budget is unfinished, it’s unclear exactly how much the Legislature will have to spend on the fiscal year that begins July 1. Although state revenue collections are beginning to rebound, lawmakers used a variety of one-time revenue sources like agency savings accounts to plug this year’s budget. A state board led by Fallin will determine how much they will have to spend on Feb. 20.
‘STEP-UP’ OKLAHOMA PLAN
Lawmakers also are expected to consider early in the session a broad swathe of tax hikes to pay for a $5,000 teacher pay raise and stabilize the state budget. The group “Step Up Oklahoma,” a coalition of some of the state’s most powerful business and industry leaders, is promoting the idea, which includes policy changes like increasing term limits for legislators, making it easier for the Legislature to approve tax increases and giving the governor more power to hire and fire agency directors.
WHO’S IN CHARGE?
Republicans in Oklahoma currently control the Legislature, every statewide elected office and every seat in the U.S. House and Senate. Although Democrats have captured four legislative seats in special elections over the last year, the GOP still enjoys a 39-8 advantage in the Senate and a 72-28 edge in the House, with one vacancy in each chamber. Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz of Altus will lead the Senate for the second year, while House Speaker Charles McCall of Atoka begins his second session as House speaker.
FOR THE PUBLIC
The Capitol, House and Senate floor sessions and most legislative hearings are open to the public. The House and Senate each broadcast its proceedings online at www.okhouse.gov and www.oksenate.gov.
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