In spite of some recent reports, we did make progress this week. Let me explain. The special session was called by the Governor with no agreement in place. Also, the Governor's call was broad, which allows for a variety of ideas and plans to be put on the table for consideration. A narrowly-focused call would have moved negotiations along quicker.
The House convened Monday through Wednesday and the House Republicans met Monday through Thursday. We spent less than 30 minutes on the floor of the House, but the rest of the time was spent in lengthy caucus meetings (Caucus meetings are meetings attended by a particular party's members in the chamber in which they serve. There are Republican and Democratic caucuses in both the House and Senate.). In my opinion, we had some of the highest-quality meetings I've experienced while being your representative. We discussed many options and determined which of those options each member could vote for in good conscience and which options were possible with support from our friends across the aisle. It is not easy.
What is clear to me is the House Republicans and House Democrats must work together closely, be honest with one other, be honest with you, and work in a trustful way. We must put the partisan bickering, gamesmanship, and blaming aside and move this state forward through faithful compromise.
On Wednesday, the House and Senate were "adjourned to the call of the Chair." This means members of the House and Senate are not working on your dime. We are not being reimbursed for per diem or mileage expenses with your tax dollars. We will continue to work until we reach a compromise on our own dimes. Once an agreement is reached, we will reconvene and do the work on the floor to get the agreement passed.
I hope we will come to an agreement that is in the best interests of our district and state very soon. The clock is ticking...
When I was elected to the House, I knew the job would be challenging and there would be many obstacles. But at the end of the session, I realized there is a certain well-intentioned constitutional provision in place that proves to be an extraordinary hurdle to effective legislating.
This hurdle is State Question 640, which voters approved in 1992. SQ 640 changed Oklahoma’s constitution to require either a majority vote of the people or a three-fourths majority vote in the Legislature to raise any tax.
Taxation is not a comfortable topic for a Republican legislator, but taxes are crucial to funding roads and bridges, education, public safety, prisons and much more. I’m not fond of paying taxes both personally and for my business; however, I am very fond of having an adequately-funded, effective and efficient state government that works for its people.
Since SQ 640 passed 25 years ago, the Legislature has not once cleared the three-quarter hurdle to pass a tax increase - even as the state has been hit by several rounds of revenue shortfalls and budget cuts that have reduced us to the bottom ranks in funding for our schools and other critically needed services. Voters have opted to raise taxes only once in 2004 when Oklahomans approved a tobacco tax. The two other tax-raising ballot measures, even one that promised a teacher pay raise, were voted down.
The public continues to demand that legislators do their job, fix the problems and represent their constituents. Oklahomans are sick and tired of gridlock and underwhelming governance. Yet SQ 640’s three-fourths requirement gives one-quarter of legislators effective veto power over efforts to come together in search of solutions. In other words, in the current House of Representatives, a minority can easily stop a majority from moving forward and representing the majority of constituents’ wishes. Rather than encourage compromise, the three-fourths hurdle fosters polarization, gridlock, and severely reduces the ability to govern in the way Oklahomans expect and deserve.
Only about one-third of states require a supermajority to raise taxes and Oklahoma’s 75 percent requirement is, along with Arkansas, the most stringent in the nation. Requiring 75 percent approval means noble bills – ones that are necessary for good government – die. To correct this and get us back on track as a state we should look to commonsense solutions to this problem. Here are some possible solutions:
SQ 640 is doing what it was designed to do; it makes tax increases unlikely. Its success is problematic, though; it’s a contributing factor to the Legislature’s gridlock and lack of statesmanship. It is time to make state government work efficiently for its citizens. It is time to remove barriers that block compromise and undermine representative government. It is time to do something different.
These are my ideas, but I am open to hearing any solutions you may have. What are your thoughts and ideas? I hope we can get a dialog going.
After spending the entire session working toward a balanced budget, we signed on the bottom line Friday and voted on a budget.
At the end of the day, we appropriated $6.9 billion to dozens of state agencies. I am relieved that we were able to keep funding for 15 agencies flat, and some of those departments even saw funding increases. Those agencies are mostly core services of government.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education, for example, will receive a $51 million appropriation from the Rainy Day Fund, bringing its funding 1.6 percent higher than it was last year. All totaled, the agency will receive nearly $2.5 billion from the state’s General Revenue Fund.
The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will receive almost $328 million, which is a 1.7 percent increase over last year’s appropriations. The Health Care Authority will see a 4.2 percent increase over what they received last year, totaling just over $1 billion.
We were also able to hold the Department of Corrections flat, as well as the Department of Transportation. Fortunately, the Legislature was also able to avoid cuts to the Oklahoma Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The Department of Human Services will actually see an 8.2 percent increase, which will go a long way to the people who benefit from the agency’s services. Other departments, like the Election Board, Tax Commission and the Commissioners of the Land Office, were also held flat.
Unfortunately, that means more than 60 agencies saw cuts anywhere between 2 and 5 percent. I am disappointed we were not able to increase funding for the Commission of Children, Youth and Disabilities and for the Department of Career and Technology Education.
This is a far-from-perfect budget. There are many things I would change if it were up to me. One of those changes would be to provide teachers the pay raise they deserve. Our inability to negotiate the pay raise is a huge legislative failure this year; it was our top priority in the House.
I hope we are able to come to a point in the near future where we restructure the budget process going forward. As hard as we tried to roll out a budget earlier in the session, we didn’t finalize anything until the final day. We experienced long days and late nights as we tried to analyze where we were sending $6.9 billion of taxpayer money. Frankly, I believe I needed more time to hear thoughts on the budget from my constituents, but the timing didn’t allow for a robust discussion. Pushing a budget through so quickly flies in the face of the transparency we should demand.
Serving the great people of House District 50 during my first legislative session has been an honor. Many of the more senior representatives and House staff have called this session the “craziest” one they have ever seen. I guess there is no better way to learn than by being thrown into the fire! I am hopeful next year will bring about more experience, more transparency, a better economy and an earlier budget deal. If you need anything over the summer, please don’t hesitate to email me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov. Thank you, and God bless.
For a while now, I’ve watched things heat up at the Capitol. Now, things are no longer just heating up; they’re red hot. And I’m experiencing the heat that comes directly from corporate interests.
You may have seen some television commercials or internet banners that have ricocheted through our district lately. They demand, “Tell Rep. Marcus McEntire ‘NO!’” on increasing taxes on the oil and gas industry. There’s a picture of my face and a handy, pre-filled-out form where you can email me and tell me to “stick to the principles [I] campaigned on.”
The policy OKOGA is talking about would raise the gross production tax on certain wells. Currently, those wells are subject to a 2 percent tax rate for the first 36 months. After that, the tax structure increases to 7 percent. There have been discussions to increase the entry-level percentage, but a formal bill had not been proposed by the end of last week.
Let me be clear: I have never made a public statement on my position regarding the gross production tax. Yet the Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association (OKOGA) has blasted my constituents with messaging suggesting otherwise.
I find OKOGA’s tactics disturbing and disingenuous. Before I arrived at the Capitol, veteran lawmakers warned me about the pressure that could come from corporate interests, and they were right. But I will not fold.
The president of OKOGA, Chad Warmington, would do well to remember that I represent the constituents of House District 50. Mr. Warmington does not live in our district, and I am not beholden to him.
At times, it feels like some lobbyists and interest groups roam the Capitol halls trying to bully members to vote a certain way. I cannot reinforce this enough: I will not be bullied into voting for or against any policy or piece of legislation. It’s crucial that you feel like you have a representative who cares about his constituents and is not easily swayed by fancy dinners coupled with personal attack ads. This situation with OKOGA has only reminded me how important having a strong backbone is in this job.
When I campaigned to be your state representative, I promised to represent you, my constituents. I heard your concerns and your desires for our district, and I vowed to do my level best to better our part of Oklahoma. I was not then, nor am I now, worried about losing your vote because of big oil. You cast your vote for me. Big oil did not.
Since Mr. Warmington and OKOGA brought up the gross production tax, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What do you think? Should big oil pay more when reaping state resources? Let me know. You can call the Capitol at (405)557-7327 or email me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov. Thank you for your continued input on various proposed legislation. I take everything you say into account. God bless.
Things are heating up at the Capitol as we enter the final few weeks of session. Now is the time where partisanship becomes very visible, and it’s frustrating to be on an endless search of the perfect solution to our budget woes.
That being said, it’s important to keep things in perspective now more than ever. The $878 million hole we’re trying to fill is a real hole: Oklahoma has nearly $900 million less to appropriate than it had last year. When people proclaim that we have a revenue problem, they are absolutely right. But the people who claim the state has a spending problem are also correct. We have both.
On the whole, the state of Oklahoma spent more than $20 billion last year. The vast majority of that is off-the-top money, meaning state lawmakers have no option in how to spend it. Last year, legislators only had a say in where nearly $7 billion went. That amount – that $7 billion – can be thought of as discretionary spending. The rest is called for, much like something that is automatically drafted out of your account each month.
You may remember Standard & Poor’s downgraded Oklahoma’s credit ranking a few months back. Much of that was because of the amount of money that comes off the top of the budget. This becomes a problem when the state revenue declines because we can only adjust a small portion of the spending.
Lawmakers need more control of the budget to better equip our state for various revenue scenarios. Say the breadwinner in your family changed jobs and took a pay cut. It’s only reasonable that you would re-work most of your budget. You’d look at your cable bill, your Netflix subscription and your mortgage itself. It would be unwise to simply think you could balance the budget by scaling back on your discretionary spending. But that’s exactly how things work at the state level.
This $878 million hole is real. If we do not come up with the money to fill it, agencies will see cuts to their budgets. But it’s also artificial. If lawmakers had more control over the off-the-top funds, we could more easily fill the gap and cut unnecessary waste.
The government cannot continue to spend money it does not have. Since our revenues have declined, we need to find a way to drastically scale back spending, or we need to find ways to increase revenue. Ideally, I’d like to see a balance between the two. There’s no doubt waste exists in state government, but we also cannot cut our agencies to the point where they can no longer perform core functions.
As session begins to wrap up, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can call the Capitol office at (405)557-7327 or email Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov. Thank you, and God bless.
Last week marked the deadline for Senate bills to be heard on the House floor and vice versa. Nearly every bill that wasn’t heard in the opposite chamber by this point is ineligible until next session. There is an exception, however, for bills authored by the Speaker of the House or the President Pro Tempore. Those bills, as well as revenue-related legislation, can be brought forward at any point.
Deadline day came and went Thursday, and the Oklahoma Senate chose not to hear the House’s teacher pay raise proposal. House Bill 1114 would’ve given teachers a $6,000 raise over three years. The first year’s raise would cost the state roughly $52 million, and House Republicans have said since the beginning of session that we are committed to funding this raise. The Senate, however, stalled the bill.
I’m disappointed the opposite chamber chose to play politics with legislation that would directly benefit the standard of living for so many Oklahomans. The decision to not hear this bill does not impact state representatives; it impacts teachers – arguably the state’s most dedicated workforce. The House stood by its word when we said a teacher pay raise was a priority. We did our part, and I’m stunned the Senate stalled our efforts to give teachers the compensation they deserve. With this legislation, our teacher pay would’ve been ranked 27th in the nation with data from the National Education Association. Without it, we will continue to be ranked 48th.
The Senate did vote unanimously to pass my bill last week though, and it now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk. House Bill 2209 tasks the Oklahoma Tax Commission with preparing an incidence impact analysis on any bill or proposal to change the tax system which increases, decreases or redistributes taxes by more than $20 million. This is an excellent transparency measure, and I fully expect citizens to benefit from this in years to come.
As always, budget negotiations continue at the Capitol, but now there is a real intensity to them I haven't seen before. We’re entering the final month of session, and the partisanship and political games are really starting to rear their heads. It is easy to get swept up in rhetoric, but I’m trying to remain logical, clear-minded and focused as we vote on bills to help balance the state budget.
It goes without saying that everyone has a dog in this fight. The Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Republicans and House Democrats all have lists of things they would like to do. However, our job, as elected officials, is to put Oklahomans first. I pray and hope we don’t lose sight of that as we enter these final few frenetic weeks.
I’m always available and eager to hear from you as legislation moves through the process. You can reach me atMarcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or (405)557-7327. Thank you, and God bless.
I’m sure you have heard a lot about the “core functions of government.” Recently, I’ve been wondering if the Legislature’s idea of “core services” is in line with your ideas of what a government ought to be funding. I want to break down for you what the Legislature views as core services based on what it appropriates to them. It seems to me the core services we spend the most of your tax dollars on reveals the Legislature's priorities.
As you might expect, education received the greatest share of state money. Between common and higher education, combined with things like the arts council and career tech, the Legislature doled out 45.76 percent of its total budget to education. Common ed received 32.67 percent, which meant the Department of Education received more than $2.4 billion last year.
Public heath received the second largest amount of funding at 19.53 percent. Under that umbrella, the Legislature appropriated 13.34 percent to the Health Care Authority and 4.37 percent to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Agencies like the health department and the Department of Veterans Affairs each receive less than 1 percent of the state budget.
Human services received 10.41 percent of the appropriated budget. This funds the Department of Human Services, Juvenile Affairs, Rehabilitation Services and aid to the disabled population.
Transportation was allocated 9.05 percent of the budget. These funds are mainly directed to the ROADS fund and Dept. of Transportation to keep our roads and bridges maintained, paved and repaired. You've probably seen new bridges in the area, and they are due to these funds.
We spend a lot of time at the Capitol discussing public safety. As a whole, public safety received 8.14 percent of last year’s budget. Of that, the Department of Corrections received $485 million, or 6.53 percent. The Department of Public Safety received 1.2 percent, and the Legislature appropriated 0.17 percent to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Other public safety agencies received even less.
Working on the budget is an ongoing task. Senior lawmakers have called this year’s process the most open one ever. House leadership shares each scenario with the entire Republican caucus and we all have a say in them. I know it’s easy to believe this process is secretive and everyone is intentionally kept in the dark, but that is not the case this year.
In fact, House Republicans started rolling out the first few bills in a series of revenue measures last week. I was asked to present one of those bills on the House floor this week and experienced my first debate because of it. The measure passed 87-7. We also scaled back some tax credits and exemptions, and we’ll likely do more of that in the weeks to come.
To recap, based on the spending of the Legislature, the core functions of government rank as follows: Education, Healthcare, Human Services, Transportation and Public Safety. Do these core functions match up with what you believe is important? Reach out and let me know. You can call the office at (405) 557-7327 or email me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov. Thank you, and God bless.
We now have six weeks left in the first session of the 56th Legislature. My first session at the Capitol has flown by so far, and now is the time we really start getting into specifics with appropriations and budget bills.
Committee meetings wrapped up on April 13, so most bills that did not clear committee are dead for the remainder of the session. However, there is an exception for revenue-related legislation. The Appropriations & Budget Committee’s deadline is April 20, but there is some flexibility on that deadline, as well, and it is not unusual to see additional bills pop up after that date.
I’m sure many of you are aware of the budget proposals that are being floated. The governor has her plan; the Democrats in the House proposed one of their own; even the state auditor has come up with a tax proposal. I'm sure you are wondering where we Republicans are in our budget process.
There are many items still up in the air, but House Republicans are about to start proposing several building blocks for a balanced budget. Leadership has a plan in place, and we will begin taking up revenue-raising measures as well as other possible solutions in the next couple of weeks. Chances are there will be a number of tax credits, exemptions and deductions on the table before we see anything like a tax increase. I plan on reviewing every proposal carefully as we seek to close the $878 million projected shortfall in next year’s budget. As those bills come up, I will be sure to update you with any major developments.
Even though budget work has yet to be finalized, the Judiciary – Criminal Justice & Corrections Committee and the Public Safety Committee passed some significant criminal justice reform measures last week. These bills were part of Gov. Mary Fallin’s justice reform package and are meant to better Oklahoma’s corrections system. I’m not in either committee, but I was glad to hear the bills are progressing, and I look forward to voting on them when the measures come before the House floor.
If you remember, we are currently hearing Senate bills in the House. The third-reading deadline for those Senate bills is April 27, meaning all of those measures will have to receive a hearing by that date to stay alive. At that point, the House will review any amendments senators added to our legislation. If we approve those changes, the bills can progress to the governor’s desk. If we do not approve the amendment, the bill can go to a conference committee to iron out any details.
As always, please feel free to reach out if you need anything. Being your state representative is one of the most gratifying jobs I have ever had, and I want to do as much good as I can. You can call my Capitol office at (405) 557-7327 or email me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov. Thank you, and God bless.
Last week was National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and we observed it at the Capitol. Weeks like these really hit home for me.
The House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 1009, which honors the men, women and children who have been victimized in the state of Oklahoma and the strength they exhibit as they work to overcome adversity.
According to recently released statistics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Oklahoma experienced 16,506 violent crimes in 2015, including 234 murders and non-negligent manslaughters, 1,849 reports of rape, 3,005 robberies and 11,418 aggravated assaults.
The victims of these crimes and their families deserve equal rights in our justice system. This week creates awareness for victims and lets them know we hear and remember their cause; we stand with them; we will treat them with fairness and respect.
As most of you remember, a Duncan family suffered an unimaginable tragedy in 2013 when their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa Wiles was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend. The loss was felt throughout the community. The Wiles family has been coming to the Capitol for years now to advocate against dating violence, and we were able to honor them on April 3.
This family is the epitome of love, resilience, strength and justice. Along with Rep. Scott Biggs, I presented a citation to the Wiles family recognizing their efforts to end dating violence. The Wiles' created a program called Always Date Without Violence. It is an incredible tool that teaches young men and women to look for signs of abuse before relationships turn violent in hopes of preventing another tragic death. The family tours schools across the state with this message. While their loss is great, the Wiles family steadfastly uses their loss and grief for an extraordinary purpose, and the citation they received on the House floor is a drop in the bucket of the recognition they deserve.
Earlier this session, we passed a number of bills that will help victims receive rights and protections co-equal to those provided to those accused and convicted of crimes. Many have been part of a package of bills called Marsy’s Law. On April 4, the House approved a Senate Joint Resolution to put crime victims’ rights into the state constitution. It passed unanimously, and now voters will get to cast their ballot on the measure in November 2018.
The Marsy’s Law movement is part of a nationwide push named after a California woman named Marsy who was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. I’m thankful the House voted in lockstep to give Oklahomans an opportunity to enshrine strengthened victims’ rights into the constitution.
We’re coming up on the deadline for Senate bills to leave the House floor in the next few weeks. If you feel strongly about certain measures or policy proposals, please get in touch with me. As always, you can email me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov, and you can call my office at (405) 557-7327. Thank you, and God bless.
Do you have a passion that really gets you going? One that makes you want to get out of bed early in the morning and start your day? One that encourages you to keep going even in the hardest moments? For me, one of those passions has quickly become helping people who are living with disabilities.
When I was elected as your state representative, I was hopeful I’d be able to advance the causes of those living with any kind of disability, and I intend to lobby on these folks’ behalves every chance I get.
In early March, a program called Think Ability First opened its first community garden in Duncan, and I was proud to be there when it happened. Think Ability is a non-profit organization that offers residential and support services for individuals who have developmental, cognitive or intellectual disabilities. It’s been around since 1982, and the organization has always provided excellent care options for people in its program.
Think Ability has day care services, group homes and semi-independent apartment options. The organization also offers in-home support for families. The employees really do it all. They’ve shown me just how much people can learn and achieve, even if someone has a disability. Adaptation is key, and the Think Ability employees understand that more than anyone I know.
Programs like Think Ability operate with minimal overhead. They depend on money from the Department of Human Services to help fund their programs. So when the Legislature underfunded DHS last session, it had the potential to affect Think Ability directly. And we nearly saw the result of that this spring.
Thankfully, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 2342 last week, which provides DHS with a $34 million supplemental appropriation for this fiscal year. The bill’s not perfect. I would’ve preferred to see the agency receive the full $42 million it requested, but the amount it’s receiving far exceeds having to make ends meet without the additional funding.
Opening that community garden is a huge step for Think Ability First and the individuals the program assists. The organization deserves every state dollar it receives.
I cannot overstate the importance of caring for our community members who are disabled. So often, I’ve seen these people treated as second-class citizens, and it breaks my heart. Every single one of us has a family member or a friend with a disability, and we ought to step up to the plate and lend a hand. This supplemental appropriation was crucial to helping organizations like Think Ability continue carrying the torch for people with disabilities, and I am proud that the House passed the bill unanimously.
As we move forward in the legislative process, please remember my office is always open to the people of House District 50. Please email me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or call my office at (405) 557-7327 to discuss any policy interests you have. Thanks, and God bless.