Area legislators took a break from the current session at the Capitol to travel home Friday and provide an update during the Legislative Luncheon. The past week was described as one of the toughest thus far in the session, at least in the House of Representatives.
“It has been the most pressure packed week,” said Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore.
The issue for Ownbey and other legislators is working toward a budget. One of the key issues for both House and Senate members is funding the Indian Cultural Center, which is requesting $40 million of state money. Ownbey said he voted against it. Although it needs to be finished, he is not sure it is a state issue.
What is a state issue is the need to provide pay raises for state employees.
“They have not had a pay raise in eight years,” Ownbey said. “The bigger agencies can’t afford pay raises with the budget they receive.”
Ownbey referred to a teacher rally at the Capitol last week, calling it a great experience. Ownbey is a co-author of a bill which would take fudning off the top of state expenditures and give it to education on a scale. But he now has misgivings after the bill was reviewed in a Senate committee and is questioning whether to keep his name on the bill.
The reason is, after review from the Senate, funding would be taken from the roads and bridges plan, which Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore, said he had serious problems with. He said he was against skimming money off the Oklahoma Department of Transportation roads and bridges campaign, which has proven results, particularly for rural Oklahomans.
“Rural Oklahoma is where the majority of deficient roads and bridges are located,” he said.
Simpson said with increased funding in education, there needs to be a strategic plan in place.
“I am in favor of funding education, but I want it to go to the schools and the students and see the impact,” he said.
Simpson cited a study in which it was shown the number of Oklahoma students have increased 6 percent, with a 44 percent growth in administration during the same time period.
Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill, spoke specifically to ongoing issues within his district, and recent ODOT meetings to alleviate traffic situations. Hardin also addressed concerns with Lake Texoma water levels, as well as issues with the Indian Cultural Center. Hardin said the state has already spent as much as $105 million on the museum. Supporters of the museum want the state to throw in $40 million of matching funds, but Hardin said he had been told $30 million of the funding would be used to fill the museum.
The legislators touched on the tax credit for horizontal drilling. It was set at 1 percent from 7 percent 20 years ago, and there is a push to increase the tax now that horizontal drilling is no longer an experimental endeavor. Ownbey said 74 percent of oil plays are horizontal. He said he expected officials to find room in the middle.