Step Up, Oklahoma

Step Up, Oklahoma

Annemarie Cuccia

After a year of budget shortfalls and funding crises, the Oklahoma legislature is entering a concurrent session in an attempt to rectify budget problems while continuing to govern. The session began with Mary Fallin’s final State of the State, in which she encouraged legislators to support a plan she believes can restore Oklahoma, called the Step Up plan. The plan was submitted by a group of community and business leaders to the legislature, and both parties have their concerns. As the legislature moves towards a vote, many Oklahomans are unaware of what the plan even entails, and many legislators claim they are too in the dark.

According to the Step Up website, the plan would “stabilize state revenue, reform government to increase efficiency and cut abuse, and raise teacher pay by $5,000 a year”. The specific reforms beyond teacher pay include lowering the supermajority threshold, creating a budget stabilization fund and an independent budget office, increasing transparency, and increasing agency accountability. The plan also reforms several political processes, as it increases legislative term limits, runs the candidates for Governor and LT. governor on the same ticket, changes the process of filling Supreme Court vacancies, and grants more autonomy of county governments.

Additionally, the plan proposes a series of plans to increase revenue. The major ones include n increased cigarette tax of $1.50, an increased oil and gas gross production tax, an increased motor fuel tax, and a simplification of income taxes that would result in higher taxes, increased progressively. The plan is estimated to bring in $750 mm, which would be split between paying off the current shortfall, a teacher raise, and a budget stabilization fund. However, doubt have been raised about the validity of the revenue estimates, with many Democratic legislators saying the numbers seem nearly impossible give their own calculations.

A larger concern many people have with the plan is that they haven’t seen the details of it. The process is in many ways reminiscent of the Republican tax bill, in that everyone has a broad idea of what is in it, but no one seems to know the details. The exact language of the bill, or anything more than a summary, has been released to few people. This has complicated the politics of the bill tremendously.

In her State of the State, Governor Fallin endorsed the plan and encouraged Republicans to fall in line. Many have said they support the general idea, but have specific they would like altered. On the Democratic side, leaders such as Representative Emily Virgin have said they’re willing to consider it, while other members express grave concerns with the bill. Meanwhile, individual interest groups continue to come out in opposition to the bill, most notable the wind energy lobby.

With no whip count in place, the future of the bill is uncertain. As the legislature begins session this week, it is likely the bill will come to the floor and be heard in its entirety, and Oklahoma leaders will finally be able to decide whether or not they will “step up”, and what it means to “step up” for Oklahomans.

 

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