February 4, 2014
IN July, the state will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the state Capitol. We’ll know by then if the Legislature has finally realized that a bond issue is needed to make critical Capitol repairs.
We’ll also know if lawmakers have the stomach to stand up to appeals for the gutting of education reform. We’ll know if a resuscitated personal income tax cut is in our future. And we’ll know which state agencies will be making do with less in fiscal year 2015.
Opening the 2014 session of the Legislature with a State of the State address on Monday, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin sounded familiar themes of conservative governance but took a firm — and welcome — stand on a Capitol bond issue and retention of key education reforms.
We were less enthused by her pledge to revive the income tax cut struck down last year by the state Supreme Court. We urge lawmakers to put the cut on the back burner and revisit it in 2015.
Fallin was steadfast in her refusal to play ball with the Obama administration. “Washington is leading this country in the wrong direction,” the governor told legislators, “but Oklahoma isn’t about to follow. In fact, we can offer a model to the rest of the country of what sound, common sense, conservative governance looks like.”
What it will look like in the coming year is a state government downsized from its already lean condition. Some underpaid state workers may get a raise. Most state agencies would see budget cuts, but K-12 education would get a $50 million infusion under the Fallin plan.
As for the agency downsizing, “These cuts are necessary,” Fallin said, noting the decline in general revenue receipts as a result of taking money off the top for dedicated spending such as the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship fund and road and bridge construction.
The address gave some (but not enough) attention to criminal justice reform. Fallin’s leadership will be critical in crossing the divide between being tough on crime and being smart on crime. Getting scant attention in the address were health care and mental health, but Fallin did urge retention of the Insure Oklahoma program and she devoted considerable rhetorical firepower toward Obamacare and Medicaid expansion.
Also making the highlight reel was Fallin’s support of legislation giving school districts greater ability to finance tornado shelters or safe rooms. This solidifies a separation on this issue between her and a Democratic legislator who wants her job. He favors a statewide bond issue financed with the franchise tax. Fallin supports the better approach.
The governor enters the 2014 campaign season as an almost sure bet to win a second and final term. Monday’s address did nothing to impede her goal of winning in November. Unlike a year ago, however, state government is in flux. House Speaker T.W. Shannon is running for the U.S. Senate and may not be much of a factor in the current legislative session.
In July, when that Capitol groundbreaking has its centennial, the state will start a new fiscal year with anemic revenue growth. Fallin put the best face she could on the state of the state, but these are challenging times in Oklahoma from a fiscal standpoint.
This is a year for smart policymaking and a time for attention to detail and to ideas, rather than to platitudes and ideology. That may be a tall order in an election season, but statesmanship requires it. And the people deserve it.