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.
Marcus McEntire represents Oklahoma House District 50.