For the week of Monday, February
5th to Thursday, February 8, 2001
Monday, February 5th
- The Oklahoma Legislature formally convened
its 2001 session, gathering in a joint Senate-House meeting to receive
the annual state of the state address. Governor Keating applauded
the accomplishments of recent years, but also focused on a number
of challenges in the years to come. He outlined his executive budget
and legislative initiatives, saying his ultimate goal was for Oklahoma
to not only restore the congressional seat it lost in the last U.S.
Census, but to add another one when a new census is taken in 2010.
In order to attain that goal, the Governor proposed several initiatives
for the 2001 session, including:
- A phased in reduction of the state
income tax, ultimately cutting the levy from 6.75 % to 3.75% --
a one-billion dollar reduction.
- A sales tax holiday and elimination
of the estate tax.
- Right to Work.
- Workers compensation reform.
- $100 million increase in education
funding, earmarking the bulk of new money for a block grant program
to reward schools that meet certain standards.
- A $3,000 pay raise for state correctional
- A 1.2 % across-the-board budget
cut at a number of state agencies including the Department of
Human Services to free up an additional $51 million in funds.
- Legislative leaders applauded the positive
tone of Governor Keating's address, but also questioned whether the
state will have enough money to enact both his new spending initiatives
and his tax cuts. In a Senate budget briefing last week, it was revealed
that while the state expected to have $300 million in growth revenue
next fiscal year, outstanding obligations already totaled almost $230
million. Those include:
- $107.3 million - Financial obligations
on Phase I and II of the ongoing statewide highway construction
- $ 18.5 million - Disaster assistance
on winter storms (state funds to match federal);
- $ 43.0 million - Costs related to
the 2000 Oklahoma Health Care Initiative and other health care
issues such as rising prescription drug and Medicaid costs;
- $ 25.0 million - Financial obligations
on statewide bond issues;
- $ 13.3 million - Annualized costs
associated with state employee pay raise
approved in 2000;
- $ 10.8 million - Costs associated
with federal changes in the Medicaid program;
- $ 7.5 million - Estimated costs
of fully funding the $3,000 teacher pay raise approved in 2000;
- $ 1.0 million - Replenish state
The $226 million total does
not include agency requests for emergency supplemental funding,
such as a $28 million request from the Department of Corrections
to pay for additional private prison beds it has either leased
already or plans to lease. When those requests and other budget
needs are included in the budget picture, total revenue obligations
and requests total $640 million - more than double the amount
of projected growth revenue.
- The Senate Special Committee on Redistricting
heard from a number of speakers during a public hearing in the Senate
chamber. The panel has been traveling the state in recent weeks, seeking
input on the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts.
Lawmakers must redraw district lines to reflect population shifts
documented by the 2000 census, including the loss of a U.S. Congressional
- Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton
Taylor and Senate Republican Leader Jim Dunlap announced agreement
on two proposed changes in the Senate rules. The rules are the byproduct
of the work of a special bipartisan task force that was appointed
to study the Senate rules and offer proposals for improvement.
The proposed changes are:
- The Senate may not consider a floor
substitute or conference committee substitute (except appropriation
bills) unless copies have either been distributed to the desks
of members or made available to them electronically prior to the
adjournment of the Senate the day before the measure is considered.
The Senate may not consider a bill or a joint resolution after
noon on the final day of session in May unless copies of the measure
have been distributed to members in the manner described above
at least four hours before consideration.
- All "shell bills" (except
appropriation bills and other exempt measures) shall be assigned
to the Senate Rules Committee. After the preparation of a committee
substitute that includes a substantive change in law, the measure
may be reassigned to another committee.
Tuesday, February 6th
- In a unanimous vote, the full Senate
approved its procedural rules for the session (see changes above).
Members also viewed the dedication of another piece of artwork for
State Capitol. Donated by Sen. Paul Muegge, the painting features
African-American cowboy Bill Picket bulldogging a steer in front of
the 101 Ranch general store in Ponca City. "101 Ranch" is
the work of Oklahoma artist Harold "H.T." Holden. It will
be added to a growing collection of Capitol artwork that has been
bolstered by the work of Sen. Charles Ford.
- Right to work legislation was assigned
to the Senate General Government Committee for consideration. SJR
1 by Sen. Dave Herbert would call a statewide special election on
June 12th to decide the question. The general government panel will
hold a hearing on the legislation on Monday, February 12th.
- The Senate Finance Committee gave a
do-pass recommendation to a measure that would raise money for passenger
rail service in Oklahoma. SJR 4 by Sen. Dave Herbert would ask voters
to approve a temporary 1-cent increase in the gas tax. The measure
would raise an estimated $180 million over a ten-year period, allowing
Oklahoma to qualify for almost $1 billion in federal matching funds,
according to Sen. Herbert.
- Officials with Tulsa's Hillcrest Hospital
went before a joint House Republican-Democratic caucus to make their
case for a special appropriation of state funding. Hillcrest contends
that it will have to end its affiliation agreements with OU and OSU,
a move that it claims will jeopardize medical teaching programs at
both schools. Hospital officials say that they may also be forced
to terminate contracts with Heartland and Community Care, making it
more difficult for the SoonerCare program to be successful in Tulsa.
Hillcrest is seeking $19.3 million in state funding over the next
two fiscal years.
Wednesday, February 7th
- The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee
on Health and Human Services heard testimony on the funding crunch
faced by Hillcrest Hospitals in Tulsa (see above).
- The House Revenue and Taxation Committee
approved one of many sales tax holiday bills. HB 1002 by Rep. Danny
Hilliard would create a three-day sales tax holiday the first weekend
in August. Exempt from sales taxes would be clothes purchases under
$100. The legislation is patterned after a similar law in Texas that
is designed to give parents a tax break on back-to-school shopping
costs. The panel also approved HB 2681 by Rep. Debbie Blackburn, legislation
that would raise the tax deduction on contributions to the Oklahoma
College Savings Plan from $1,000 to $2,500.
Thursday, February 8th
- The Senate met briefly before adjourning
for the weekend. Senate committees continued to meet to discuss pending
legislation. Lawmakers are facing a February 22 deadline to pass bills
out of committee in their house of origin.
- Southwestern Bell made a $30 million
donation to a special educational trust fund designed to boost school
technology. Interest from the fund, which could range from $1 million
to $3 million annually, will be distributed to schools by a board
of trustees. The donation is the byproduct of a telecommunications
deregulation agreement forged between Bell and state officials in