Claremore Daily Progress

May 8, 2013

Legislators eye early adjournment

Sean Murphy
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY —

With an agreement in place on a $7.1 billion state budget and the governor’s signature already on several key legislative initiatives, Oklahoma lawmakers are beginning to suggest the 2013 legislative session might end early — a move that could save state taxpayers nearly $28,000 per day.
The Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn by 5 p.m. on the last Friday in May — May 31 this year — but legislative leaders have suggested they could wrap up their work a week, or even two, before then.
“At this point in the session, with top legislative priorities on the governor’s desk awaiting her signature and a tentative budget agreement reached, it’s becoming more likely that the Legislature will be able to finish this session before the constitutional May 31st deadline,” said Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “And while it is still too early to know exactly when legislative business will conclude, we know each day the Legislature doesn’t meet saves taxpayer resources. That’s a goal we are continually working toward.”
The House and Senate would realize significant savings, mostly in the form of travel reimbursements and per diem for members who live more than 50 miles from the Capitol. In the 101-member House, per diem and mileage reimbursement alone total more than $10,500 each day. The cost of salaries for session-only employees, a program for high school pages and the $60 daily fee for the House chaplain of the day bring the total daily cost of the House session to nearly $20,000 each day, according to information provided by the House comptroller.
In the 48-member Senate, the session costs about $7,600 each day. This includes about $5,200 for per diem and mileage reimbursement, $1,600 for hourly session employees, and about $800 for the page program, which covers lodging and stipends for about 10 pages each week.
Lawmakers earn a base salary of $38,400, although members in leadership positions earn more. 
The House speaker and Senate president pro tem get $56,332, and floor leaders and budget committee chairs get $50,764.
Leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature reached a broad agreement with Gov. Mary Fallin in late April on three major issues: an income tax cut, an overhaul of the workers’ compensation system, and a plan to repair the Capitol and other state buildings. 
Those bills all have been given final legislative approval, and only the tax cut bill remains to be signed. 
Then last week, Fallin and legislative leaders reached a deal on a $7.1 billion budget to fund various state agencies. 
That measure will get its first hearing in House and Senate committees Wednesday and could be on Fallin’s desk as early as next week.
“The major issues of the day are decided — tax cuts, workers’ comp, Capitol infrastructure and the budget,” said House Democratic leader Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City. 
“Anything of importance that doesn’t get addressed this year, under our rules can be taken up next session, in February, when we generally have a much lighter workload. 
“I don’t see a whole lot of reasons why we shouldn’t be able to adjourn early and go back home to our families.
“When we gavel out, the people of Oklahoma can take a deep breath because they know they won’t have to worry about too much meddling in their lives at that point.”