By Sen. JOSEPH SILK
The 2017 regular session is finally over, and I am excited to get back to the district full time. The issue that most people were talking about was the nearly $1 billion budget deficit the state was in this year. I spent quite a bit of time speaking with folks about why this is the case, but to recap, it’s mainly due to two reasons.
Second, Oklahoma is excessive in our sales tax exemptions, tax credits, etc.
I voted against the appropriations bill (the budget), because I firmly disagreed with a few items in it. However, under the circumstances, the budget did not come out half bad.
Also, I voted against most of the revenue raising bills. I campaigned last year on working on the tax structure, so the revenue raising measures I supported really centered around getting rid of needless sales tax exemptions and raising the gross production tax on oil and gas wells.
Most of the things I am most passionate about were protected, including fundamental liberties, individual liberties, and private property rights. Although some good was accomplished this past year, and some of which will benefit our state in the future, many issues still went untouched.
We made no progress on abortion, the Zero-Emission tax credit, and shrinking government to only core functions (which would increase funding to those areas).
One large issue will continue to face our state. The budget bill held some state agencies harmless (not accounting for the revenue failures mid-year), and cut most others. Most agencies that were held harmless were very grateful and appreciative of the minor cuts or only having to deal with the revenue failure in light of the $1 billion shortfall.
However, the Department of Education had a complete fit about having to eat a small 0.7 percent revenue failure — so much so that they persuaded the legislature and governor to run a special bill that pulled an additional $18 million dollars from the Rainy Day Fund to back fill and cover the revenue failure, allocating that money in addition to the $33 million they already received from the Rainy Day Fund (which I voted for).
In my opinion, that was disrespectful to other core functions of government such as our sheriff deputies, highway patrol men, corrections, veterans’ affairs, our hospitals and other areas of need.
Some of those agencies dealt with a cut and had to deal with the revenue failure, and I applaud them for doing their best. Not the Department of Education though — even though they have received an increase in funding of over $668 million dollars in the past 9 years.
I firmly believe that public education is a constitutional function of our state and many of my closest friends teach in the public education system. However, when you have the largest agency in the state, the agency that receives 51 percent of the state budget, screaming for more at the expense of cutting public safety, health, and roads, there is a huge issue that needs to be put in check.
There are millions of wasted dollars in our education system and the State Department of Education must clean up this mess, before they wreck our state. The public must demand straight answers from them.
As always, if I can ever be of assistance to any of you, if you would like to speak one and one, or if I can in any way help inform you of any state issue, please do not hesitate to contact me. My office can be reached by calling 405-521-5614 or by email at [email protected].
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