When lawmakers adjourn the legislative session, it’s called “sine die,” which is Latin for “without assigning a day for a further meeting.” House Republican leadership announced last week they intended to wrap up the 2018 session around May 4, a few weeks before we are legally required to end legislative work.
As we near the end of my second regular session (and fourth if you count the special sessions), I’ve found myself really proud of what we’ve finally accomplished. It wasn’t perfect, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was progress.
Most notably, lawmakers passed legislation raising salaries for all teachers, support staff and most state employees. These raises will have an impact on thousands of Oklahoma families across this state who deserve this increased compensation for their service to the state. Legislators also increased funding for education through a textbook stipend and boosted state aid formula dollars. These are all wins – all steps in the right direction.
What I’m perhaps most proud of, however, is that Democrats and Republicans were able to accomplish this in a year without a huge surplus in our budget. As many of you know, recent state budgets have enforced cut after cut to state agencies because of revenue failures. These slashed budgets have resulted in numerous headaches for the civil servants who have been forced to do more with less. This year, though, lawmakers joined together to change the state’s course.
Nobody likes increased taxes, especially when it impacts your bottom line. But sometimes good governing involves making uncomfortable choices because we know it will set the state on a better path forward. With the revenue-raising measures my colleagues and I passed earlier this session, we’ve done that and we've done it in a way that will impact most Oklahomans on average of $21 per year in gasoline taxes.
Those votes and the bipartisan cooperation mean we can start to properly fund our government. And thankfully, the increased revenue means a “robust increased budget,” according to Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols.
Of course, my colleagues and I can’t take all the credit. The economy continues to improve, too. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) reported that March General Revenue Fund collections were $405.5 million – $53.5 million, or 15.2 percent, above March 2017 collections and $21.4 million, or 5.6 percent above the monthly estimate.
Moody’s, one of the nation’s top credit-rating agencies, also issued a credit-positive report for Oklahoma earlier this month. If you remember, Moody’s gave Oklahoma a credit negative warning about five months ago when the Legislature had not yet closed a $215 million hole in the state budget. Talk about a turnaround.
As we wrap this session up, I will continue to work during the interim to find efficiencies in government that allow us more freedom to fully fund core services. It’s a project I’ve been working on since my first election, and it’s one I’ll continue from here on out. We cannot allow government waste to hinder our state’s ability to efficiently function. I know you want a funded government that works for its people and does so without waste.
As always, I’m here if you need me. Don’t hesitate to reach out at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.
I’ve always been a firm believer in learning from others. This week, I had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of educators and civil servants who visited the Capitol to lobby for more funding. I learned something new with each conversation.
You shared stories about classroom supply shortfalls – cracked desks and crumbling textbooks. You spoke about second jobs you took just to help support your families. You talked about the amount of money you’ve poured into new crayons, paper, pencils and pens because your students didn’t have the supplies.
But for every sad story I heard of Oklahoma falling short, I listened to 10 more from educators bragging on their students. They spoke of the promising research papers their high schoolers were writing. They boasted about their third graders who were working day-in and day-out to learn to read at grade-level. Some teachers said they’d gladly donate a portion of their salary increase if it meant more individualized attention with their students.
I’d say lawmakers made progress this past week, but let’s be clear – it was the educators. The House and Senate passed bills to fund education. Those bills are not a magic fix, but both are great steps toward funding our future.
We still have lots of work to do in improving our state’s educational system. And based on the conversations I’ve heard over the past week, I’ve become convinced it will take more than just money. Funds are crucial, of course, but teachers have shared other frustrations with the system we should look at closely as we move forward. And I’m relying on you to help me make those changes.
When I was in seminary, I was a substitute teacher to make ends meet, but that experience makes me no expert in the classroom. Our teachers are on the front lines, and they’re the ones who know best. Lawmakers would be wise to talk less and listen more to their concerns. Will we accomplish erasing all of the cuts to education over the years in this session? Probably not. But genuine listening will lead to big changes for the next generation of Oklahomans.
Education is the focus of funding at the moment, and rightly so. However, we have many other areas feeling the pain. Our rural nursing homes and hospitals, our prison system, our mental health system, our intellectually and developmentally disabled population, our roads and bridges program and many other areas also need attention and funding. I believe it is my job to make sure all areas receive what they need. It is also my job to make sure all of these areas, including education, are running efficiently. I have learned working as your representative that you want two things: you want your state government funded, and you want it to run efficiently (without waste). I intend to work toward these goals.
You know how to reach me if you need anything. Just email Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or call 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.
Marcus McEntire represents Oklahoma House District 50.