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.
The Capitol has been fairly quiet this past week, which is typical for Spring Break. Lawmakers met briefly on the floor each day, and Senate bills were assigned to committees. Several of my colleagues and I brought our families to Oklahoma City for the break, and I really enjoyed getting to meet everyone. It was especially fun to watch our children play together and observe life on the House floor – a future generation of leaders, that’s for sure!
Even though floor sessions and committee meetings were pretty light this week, negotiations continue on a teacher pay raise plan. Leaders in the House, Senate and governor’s office are hard at work trying to provide teachers with proper compensation while balancing the needs of all other core services of government. It’s not an easy feat, which is why you may have seen several possible plans floating around social media lately.
Last week, House Speaker Charles McCall unveiled a proposal that is being dubbed the Transformational Teacher Pay Raise Plan. This plan is a backup plan should a grand revenue package we can pass not materialize. It is a long-range plan intended to come to fruition over the course of the next six years. What it lacks in immediacy, it makes up for in salary increases. By the time the plan is complete, Oklahoma’s teacher salaries would be highest in the region. Educators who have been in the classroom for 25 years would be making $60,000 on the minimum teacher salary schedule.
As the teacher walkout looms, there are a number of other plans on the table to fund education, fund teacher and state employee pay increases, and fund core services. It is becoming evident I will be forced to make some tough calls on your behalf soon. Lawmakers will be faced with choices I would honestly rather not face over these next few weeks and months, but my job is to listen to you and carry out the will of the people in House District 50.
Of course, none of this is easy – and all of it is taking much longer than anyone would like. But I am in this for the long haul, and I intend to stand with teachers every step of the way.
If you have any thoughts on the pay raise proposals, please reach out and let me know. I’m atMarcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and may God continue to bless our great state.
As the House worked through its floor deadline this past week, lawmakers continued to work hard on a teacher pay raise plan. This can sometimes feel like an insurmountable feat, but I remain committed to getting this done. The time is now.
Despite the high tensions surrounding the possible teacher walkout, I’m encouraged by the number of people actively following what happens in state government. Local politics tend to be overshadowed by what happens at the national level, but decisions made on the state-level are generally more impactful to you.
Of course, I wish this increased advocacy and activism had come about because of something positive, but I truly believe an informed public is a better public. Your frustrations are understood, and I share them with you. By harnessing the energy of teachers, superintendents and parents, I believe we can all find common ground and develop a solution that will work. Working across the aisle, bringing stakeholders to the table and doing some honest-to-goodness brainstorming will help us get there.
This change will not happen overnight. April 2 is fast approaching, and bills don’t become law instantaneously. Once a deal is reached, language must be drafted. The process itself of passing nearly any bill takes at least five days. That’s not to mention the fact that the Oklahoma Education Association’s request of $800 million for this upcoming fiscal year is a near-impossible task.
We’ve tried to raise taxes – even just to the tune of $160 million in the form of a cigarette tax increase – several times over the past year. Each time, a small minority of representatives has used its power as a way to prohibit progress. The House has passed a series of reforms that will help us better grasp our state budget, but we’re still far short of the $800 million OEA wants.
I do not say this to discourage a walkout. In fact, I encourage teachers to follow their hearts these next few weeks. Make your voices heard. Come visit me at the Capitol. Visit other lawmakers. Do whatever you need to do. I hesitate to give you false hope, though, because I honestly cannot envision a scenario where lawmakers are able to deliver on every OEA demand – especially before April 2.
Are teachers and support staff deserving of a significant raise? Without a doubt. Am I fighting to make that happen? Every single day. I am staunchly supportive of our educators, and I cannot fully express how appreciative I am for their dedication to our state’s future generations. My desire is to reach a compromise where the solution will both provide immediate relief and long-term growth opportunities for teacher salaries. Perhaps then we will start effectively recruiting teachers, rather than throwing up our hands in exasperation. I believe we can do this if we stop insisting on a Republican plan or a Democrat plan and demand an Oklahoma plan – a plan that is good for all Oklahomans.
Lastly, I have one quick bill update: my measure forming a commission to investigate elderly abuse, neglect and exploitation passed the House and is headed to the Senate. I am truly grateful for the support, and I’m excited that we seem to be on track to better protecting our senior citizens.
If you are planning a visit to the Capitol in the coming weeks, please let me know. I’d love to talk to you. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov and 405-557-7327. Thanks and God bless.
I’ve received more emails and phone calls in the past week or two from teachers in House District 50 than I have in a long time. Each conversation contains stories of educators who are just flat exhausted – they feel underappreciated and stretched thin. And they feel let down by lawmakers.
As much as I hate to see and hear the frustrated tone in the emails and phone calls, I have to admit I understand where the teachers are coming from. Please know, I stand with our educators.
House Republicans have voted on more than 20 revenue measures that could have helped fund – or funded entirely – a teacher pay raise. And that’s just since I’ve been in office. I’ve voted ‘yes’ each and every time. These revenue bills weren’t always the easiest measures to vote for or approve; as a conservative, I truly believe in protecting taxpayers from unnecessary taxation. But at a certain point, we must realize the path Oklahoma is on is not working out well. We need to adjust our policies and set our state on a better path.
I truly believe we can make changes that positively impact Oklahoma and provide for teacher pay raises. As lawmakers, we have a duty to put people above politics. We have a responsibility to think and make decisions bettering Oklahoma for the future, not just for today. Those decisions include ensuring we properly compensate teachers so our dedicated educators don’t flee the state. The time to act is now.
As for another pressing issue, most everyone has heard about the closure of Youth Services for Stephens County. I did not see this one coming, and I heard about it only after being contacted by a local news reporter. The closure is upsetting, and it will impact the many families who rely on services day in and day out.
Also, it is upsetting to me to blame the closure on budget cuts. I have learned the center received no cut from the Office of Juvenile Affairs this year. And again, nobody from the center contacted me alerting me of budget woes so severe they could prompt shutting the doors.
I’ve been in contact with folks at the Office of Juvenile Affairs, and we’re looking into exactly what happened at Youth Services. Their programs and services were valuable to our district, and I would love to see if there’s something we can do to reopen the center or replace services in another manner. I’ll keep you posted.
There’s a lot of news happening these days. Please trust that I think of the people in House District 50 every single day. Your worries and concerns are my worries and concerns. Your celebrations are mine, too. If you need anything, you know how to reach me. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.
Have you ever read a news article so horrifying that it sticks with you for months? Have you ever learned about a common practice that seems so backwards and inhumane that you couldn’t understand why people haven’t put a stop to it?
I hate to sound overly dramatic, but that’s exactly what happened to me when I read a New Yorker Magazine piece about the system of court-appointed guardians in the United States. According to the reporter, there are roughly 1.5 million adults who are part of this system across the country. Many are lucid, functioning senior citizens who simply live slower lives than they used to. And often times, they’re being forcefully removed from their home and moved to a living center without any say in the matter. These men and women can quickly become wards, losing their assets and being charged exorbitant fees by the “guardians” who oversee their cases.
After I read this article, I couldn’t stomach the thought of Oklahoma seniors losing their rights. Thankfully, I’m not alone. A bill I authored creating the Commission on the Prevention of Abuse of Elderly and Vulnerable Adults is now eligible to be heard on the House floor. The commission would study and make recommendations for changes to state policies to better provide services to individuals at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation under existing adult guardianship laws. A report would be due by Dec. 1, 2019.
If our state really wants to brag on our “Oklahoma Standard,” we have to carry that standard throughout the care of all our residents – including and especially our most vulnerable. My desire is to see this commission and its recommendations through to the end, so our citizens can be treated fairly and respectfully.
As part of House District 50’s goal to make sure Oklahomans are properly equipped to effectively engage in government, I’ve also authored legislation requiring the Oklahoma Tax Commission submit a biennial report to the Legislature on the overall incidence of the income tax, sales tax and other excise taxes. The bill cleared committee last week and will allow Oklahomans insight into who all is paying taxes in the state. This is great policy that promotes transparency and assists lawmakers as we craft budget bills each year.
Lastly, my bill expanding the Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment Program received unanimous approval in committee. The measure permits the Physician Manpower Training Commission to waive the maximum rural population criteria currently in statute, which should entice more doctors and physician assistants to practice in rural areas.
These proposed policy changes are common sense measures, and Oklahomans will be able to see direct results from their implementation. Above all, that’s what I want to achieve as your state representative – policy changes you can benefit from. If you have anything you think I should know about, please reach out. I’m at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. God bless.
The 2018 legislative session is in full swing up at the Capitol, and we sure started off with a bang. Lawmakers voted on a revenue proposal, known as Step Up Oklahoma, on Feb. 12. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it failed to gain the necessary votes for passage.
The bill had good parts – everyone agrees some extra cash would help Oklahoma. The revenue would have provided teachers with a well-deserved and long-overdue raise. It would have stabilized rocky funding levels for health care workers across the state. It would have allowed lawmakers to focus on big-picture things instead of trying to hurriedly scrape together a bare-bones budget.
But the Step Up package also carried with it proposals I did not appreciate. In fact, in my dozens of conversations with colleagues, no one I spoke to loved everything the plan offered. Step Up was, in the truest sense, a compromise bill. That said, its failure should not dictate where we go from here.
Instead of letting yet another revenue bill’s failure sow anger and exhaustion, I’m choosing to lean into hope that lawmakers can work across party lines to better our state. Casting my ‘yes’ vote on Feb. 12 meant I was saying ‘yes’ to securing a future of which Oklahomans can be proud. Watching the vote fail means I’m recommitting myself to building coalitions of Oklahomans on issues we care about.
Here’s what I know: Oklahomans want better education. Our teachers are some of the brightest, hardworking people I have ever met. They deserve a raise, and House Republicans will continue to fight until educators are properly compensated. I’ll also lobby for local control. Teachers know how to teach their students best. We should encourage independent classroom control, and we should empower parents to be more involved in local schools.
Oklahomans also prioritize economic development. As our tax base grows, we should seek to diversify our economy. Any investor worth his or her salt would advise clients against putting all their eggs in one basket. To strengthen Oklahoma’s economic future, we must spread out our portfolio.
Thirdly, Oklahomans recognize the need for infrastructure improvement. Our state currently ranks third worst in the nation for structurally deficient bridges. The pattern of tapping into funding for roads and bridges needs to stop. We must properly fund our transportation department so we can prevent serious infrastructure problems before more bridges collapse.
These changes aren’t things that can happen with a flick of the wrist. They will take work. Lawmakers have fought for years on these issues, and I will continue to carry the torch with my colleagues. My hope is that you will join me in this effort. Future generations should be able to look back at this session as the year when Oklahomans said ‘yes’ to building a better state.
As always, you can reach me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7327. Thanks, and God bless.
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.