Select committee chosen to address budget concerns

After years of the Oklahoma State Senate putting out legislative fires and addressing issues on a first-come first-serve basis, Senator Frank Simpson (R) and a select committee will begin putting together a long-term fiscal plan for the future of Oklahoma.

Simpson was recently chosen to serve on a select committee in the Senate to tackle budgetary issues, tax incentives and state revenue with a long-range focus.

Simpson said it’s a step in the right direction.

“In my seven years we’ve spent all our time putting fires out and really haven’t had much time to devote for strategic planning or looking into the future,” Simpson said. “We’ve just been focused on making it through the year. We’ve got to get out of that habit and do some long-range planning — that’s what we’re starting to do with this select group.”

And while the state senate is taking action to address long-term budgetary concerns, Simpson said there are still issues that need to be addressed in the short-term.

In the upcoming special session, Simpson said they will be tasked with securing funding for the Department of Human Services. Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health Services through the fiscal year ending June 30.

“The first step will be to come up with some supplemental funding to allow some of these agencies to finish out the year,” Simpson said.

In addition to securing funding to keep those agencies afloat through 2017, Simpson said the main issue for 2018 will be addressing the state’s budget deficit.

“It’s going to be another challenging year, but we do see some improvements in our revenue,” Simpson said. “Budget is going to be taking up most of our time.”

Simpson said national economic trends are beginning to take root in Oklahoma and it’s being evidenced in the revenue figures.

“We are seeing some improvement in the revenue picture,” Simpson said. “I think we’re seeing the economy really starting to take hold. The economy is moving in the right direction. I think we’ll see a significant stimulus to the economy in the next few months.”

Simpson credits federal tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks for the increased consumer confidence and positive economic outlook. To capitalize on the growth, Simpson said the state of Oklahoma will have to make strides in diversifying the economy.

“We know we have to diversify our economy, we’re still primarily dependent on the energy sector, but we’re seeing some growth in other areas,” Simpson said. “We see the aerospace industry, which is a little more stable and predictable, taking a more dominant role in our economy and farming continues to be a contributor. It’s a good thing.”

In addition to diversifying the state’s economy, Simpson said both the House and the Senate will be tasked with keeping the oil industry accountable. The first step will be securing a proposal to raise the gross production tax from 2 percent to 4 percent.

Simpson said the House and Senate have been tackling the issue over the past four years, and while it’s been a struggle to make headway, Simpson said the political climate around raising the gross production tax has changed.

“I think that the climate is starting to change,” Simpson said. “We have given the oil industry a really good deal for far too many years at the expense of our tax payers. All we’re asking is the oil industry to pay their fair share. We tax a working family on their groceries they buy but we give the oil companies a big break on their revenue.”

Simpson said last year the proposal to raise the gross production tax didn’t make it out of the house with the oil industry lobbying against it. 

“The oil industry lobbied aggressively against it,” Simpson said. “But now they’re all for it. The political winds changed before we even knew what was happening.”

In lieu of a special session, Simpson said the plan as of now is to have a concurrent special session on Feb. 5 during the regular session.