Elected officials updated city leaders on issues currently facing state and local governments Friday at the Will Rogers Museum Memorial.
Democratic Rep. Ben Sherrer, Republican Rep. Marty Quinn and Decmocratic Sen. Sean Burrage spoke on the recent tax cut and the passing of the state’s general appropriation bill and workers’ compensation bill.
On Thursday, the Oklahoma House passed a $7.1 billion bill to fund state government for the upcoming fiscal year. Democrats and some Republicans argued the bill does not adequately fund state troopers and prisons.
Sherrer said there were 23 people in the gallery of the House during the signing of the appropriation bill. Of the 23, two were of the general public who were interested in the expenditure of $7.1 billion.
“Not that I expected that gallery to be packed, but I think it’s interesting to see something as big as the state budget, ultimately have that little of interest.” he said. “Compare and contrast that to the bill 1804 a few years ago dealing with illegal immigration, what you might see in the gallery. Compare and contrast that what you might see when we are dealing with a firearm deal.”
He said it’s just a “snapshot” of what is politically popular or expedient versus the issues that have a real significant impact on a lot of people with a broad brush.
“It concerns me as a legislator to see the general apathy on the big items that affect a lot of people.”
The GA bill will be passing out of the senate next week.
“I supported the Democrat-proposed budget, which was not accepted,” he said. “We had taken the same amount of dollars and basically reduced the appropriations that would have been going into some much need capitol improvements. Instead of putting $90 million into various capitol improvements, we would have reduced that amount to $10-20 million and then been able to fund pay raises for highway patrol, correction officers and more money into education.”
Another change that has happened since the last month’s breakfast is the passing of the 2015 tax cut.
“Why are we passing a tax cut that doesn’t go into effect for another 20 months,” said Burrage. “We could wait until next year and know what the revenue picture is. One reason is politics.”
He said the governor needs to say she made a tax cut before her upcoming re-election. She could not wait a year.
“I hope it all works out and I hope that state revenue sky rockets in the next year, but it’s really bad policy because we can take this same issue up next year and have 12 months more data than where we are now.”
Oklahoma currently has the fifth highest workers’ compensation rate in the U.S.
“That’s way too high,” said Burrage. “The recent workers’ comp reform is a significant reform. What has happened in the system is doctors are making 300 percent of what they would claim on a normal workers’ comp claim client.”
He said the bill did not take a single penny away from doctors.
“I’m glad we have the reform and hope the costs go down for injured workers. I just think it’s a bit cynical that we would take every penny away from the injured worker,” said Burrage. “This system wasn’t set up to protect doctors, but instead employers and employees. I hope it has cost savings for the employers, but once again the medical profession made out like bandits.”
Quinn put government decisions into perspective Friday morning.
“When you get on the inside of government, you do see things differently,” said Quinn. “My hope and prayer is that because I am on the inside I can also maintain the view you all have from the outside and walk away with a perspective that’s beneficial for all of us.”
He said he is always influenced by fellow representatives and he just hopes he makes the right decisions.
“Taxpayers are making that dollar that we’re spending. For us to say that we are going to take $214 million in additional revenue and spend all of it, I don’t think there is anything wrong with rewarding them in some way,” he said. “I am disappointed with the workers’ comp bill because there were components left out and anytime you leave a component out, you didn’t present the best bill.”
He said the medical field should not make out with more than the other related parties.
Legislative presenting sponsor for the event was Pelco Structural, LLC.