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.