Taking on the role of a teacher, Gov. Mary Fallin gave the Oklahoma legislature a C-plus for the session just ended.
The comment came as she ended her State of the State speech sponsored by the Tulsa Regional Chamber in front of nearly 1,000 people.
Although much of her luncheon speech told of things not accomplished, Fallin also said, “we have done great things.”
Education, public safety, infrastructure and health care are the four most important tasks facing the next legislature, said Fallin, who also pushed strongly for “structural changes” in the state budget, something that went nowhere in this year.
Those structural changes to the budget will be a consideration in 2017 and, she said, “will always be a priority.”
She noted that half of all state monies go to education at all levels and she wanted the cuts to common education to be “as flat as possible.”
One failed effort was to cut common education costs by eliminating the overhead management costs of small, dependent school districts by having those offices transferred to the bigger districts; something that would not affect classroom teachers, she said.
Across state government, cuts ranged from 1 percent to 10 percent with most at 5 percent, she said.
Five years ago the state’s economy was hit by the national recession and then was hit again by the decline in oil prices.
For health care, Fallin said she wanted — but did not get — a hike in the cigarette tax to $1.50 per pack. (At $1.03 it ranks 33rd in the nation with New York first at $4.35 and Missouri last at 17 cents for an average of $1.63. The federal tax is $1.01).
A one-cent hike in the state sales tax rate is really a 22-percent increase and Fallin voiced concerns that it “may cause more people to shop online.”
“E-fairness,” which would put online shopping equitable with store shopping, will take an act of Congress, said Fallin, who urged the audience to bring the topic up with their U.S. senators and representatives.
On the positive side, the governor said:
- Drug courts have cut into all addictions.
- The state has eliminated the box on application forms that had to be checked by those who had been convicted of a felony.
- The number of deficient bridges in the state has dropped from 700 to 342.
Oklahoma received high rankings in a number of categories by different groups — fifth in economic output, sixth in lowest tax burden and18th for doing business, Fallin said.
In the Tulsa metro, Fallin said the highway department is “making great progress” on roads and bridges along with the turnpikes, bonds were approved only a day before for the Oklahoma Museum of Pop Culture, the Gathering Place will be a new feature to attract people and the region is attracting new business, more work and new growth.
Passage of the Vision 2025 tax and the impact it will have on the Oklahoma Air National Guard “grabbed the attention” of the Pentagon during a visit last week in seeking the Air Force’s newest fighter be assigned to the Tulsa unit, she said.
Such an assignment will bring “lots of opportunity for new jobs and investment” to Tulsa, the governor said.