The final week of the legislative session is complete, with the Senate adjourning Sine Die on Friday. It’s been a challenging year and although we didn’t accomplish everything we would have liked, we did make significant strides towards establishing recurring revenue to put the state on better financial footing in future years.
At the start of the session, we faced a $1 billion shortfall and the threat of massive budget cuts. Like most General Appropriation (GA) bills passed by the Legislature, the FY’18 budget is not a perfect bill – but it is an incredible accomplishment considering there were a number of House members from both parties who refused to compromise and the Legislature had to craft a budget while faced with a staggering budget hole of upwards of $1 billion. Not only did we fill most of that shortfall, the FY’18 budget held harmless the budgets of common education, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services, the Health Care Authority, and the Department of Public Safety, all while holding other agency cuts to an average of less than 5 percent.
I was pleased that we were able to increase the Gross Production Tax on 1-percent wells to 4 percent this year, as well as increase revenue by an additional $46 million by eliminating oil and gas GPT rebates. We were also able to sunset the zero emissions credit for wind energy, which will save the state money in future budget years, but alone, it wasn’t enough to balance the state’s financial situation. These two areas have been my main priorities in changing our tax credit and special interest programs. We made progress this year, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. I will continue to work towards solutions that place less of a burden on the backs of the average citizen and shifts more responsibility on special interest groups to pay their fair share.
Although the budget was the major focus of the 2017 session, the Senate also achieved significant policy goals across a wide variety of areas. We approved the REAL ID measure, which brings Oklahoma into compliance with the federal REAL ID law. We also approved the Energy Jobs Act of 2017, one of the most significant job creating bills in years that is anticipated to generate $18 million in new revenue for state government.
Education has always been a priority for me, and it was no different for members of the Senate this year. The FY ’18 budget provides approximately $21.6 million more for schools than the original FY’17 budget. This is a significant accomplishment, given the fact that the state faced revenue shortfalls of $600 million in 2015, $1.3 billion in 2016 and most recently, 1 billion in 2017. While most agencies have been subject to budget cuts year after year, education has been held harmless. This year’s budget will allow education to have the exact same budget they received in 2017 without any reduction for 2018, while many other agencies will receive another 4 percent cut on top of the 20 percent cut many already received in previous years.
The Legislature also provided an additional $18 million from the Rainy Day Fund to schools to keep the school funding formula at the same level as FY’17 in spite of a nearly $1 billion shortfall in state revenues. The GA bill this year also fulfilled the state’s obligation to cover 100 percent of the health insurance costs of educators by providing an additional $20.6 million for that purpose.
Without a doubt, this year has been the most difficult of the seven years I’ve had the honor of serving in the state legislature. The ongoing financial condition of the state has presented unique challenges, but I believe we made significant strides in balancing the financial structure this year and I’m looking forward to building on that work in the coming years.
I always welcome your questions about state government or concerns about legislation. Please do not hesitate to contact my Senate office at the Capitol by calling (405) 521-5555 or writing to me at Senator Marty Quinn, 2300 North Lincoln Blvd. Rm. 417B, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK 73105. I can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.