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.