Republicans Release PreSession Agenda
The Republican majority in the House unveiled an outline of the upcoming session which isn’t far removed from what they started with last year.
The plan calls for looking at things like the tax code, Department of Human Services and other conservative issues, but wasn’t very detailed.
House Speaker Kris Steele stands in the Blue Room of the Capitol backed by just 18 of his 68 Republicans with just 3 weeks left before session starts.
On the subject of the Budget, leaders say Oklahoma’s economy is doing well but agencies will likely have a standstill budget to make up one-time funds used last year.
The other issue is $1.1 billion dollars in bonding requests.
House Appropriations Chairman Earl Sears says the GOP caucus stands firmly against moving any bond proposal forward.
“The only one that possibly could move forward would be the refurbishing of this building that we stand in. It is the capitol. It’ll be 100 years old in 2017. It’s the people’s building. It is absolutely a discussion that we need to have.”
Some of the members also want to see changes at the Department of Human Services which has received a lot of press in the past year.
Representative Jason Nelson, the Chair for the Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Services says he would like to see legislation in the area of transparency and governance of the agency.
“You’ve got really enormous power being wielded by an agency that effects people’s lives operating in a confidential environment; how do we open up more records more often for public scrutiny.”
One of the major issues to come out of the interim was what to do with Oklahoma’s tax code especially the reduction of income taxes.
Speaker Steele wasn’t able to give specifics on a plan, but says the GOP is dedicated to reducing the tax burden for Oklahomans.
“We believe that as our economy strengthens and as jobs grow and more jobs are added we’ll be able to make up the revenue that is necessary to fund the core services of government.”
The lack of specifics surprises the leader of the House Democrats since lawmakers and state leaders signed off on a task force recommendation.
It would reduce the income tax by eliminating tax credits for child care, sales tax and earned income.
Minority Leader Scott Inman says every Oklahoman should be concerned that this plan would mean a net tax increase for 60% of people in the state.
“That average family who makes $30,000 or $40,000 a year is going to see a net savings on their income tax of between $15 to $30 total, but when you eliminate the exemptions they can take on their taxes they see an increase of $600 or more.”
But, Inman says the agenda put forth from the GOP on Tuesday leaves the Democrats cautiously optimistic.
“We do want to see some more specifics; I suppose that’s the real caution. They were long on ideas, short on specifics. What are they going to do with water? What are they going to do with education? What are they going to do with roads and bridges, specifically? What are they going to do in terms of tax credits and tax cuts?”
Speaker Steele says specifics on the agenda will be released in a series of press conferences scheduled over the next couple of weeks.
The session kicks of with the Governor’s State of the State address on February 6th.