22nd Journal of the Second Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

June 23rd, 2016

           State legislative leaders do not agree with State Superintendent of Education Hoffmeister referring to the budget cuts in public education as “line itemed” budget categories.  These include categories such as Textbook, Alternative Education and Remediation that are traditionally identified and assigned a fiscal value in what is labeled as Public School Activities Budget.  From the records that are now available, it appears that the State Department of Education (OSDE) will experience an estimated $38 million shortfall in this area.  To make matters worse, we were notified that there will be a $16.3 million loss in the Common Education Technology Revolving Fund.  This is one of six revenue sources used to make up the state’s appropriation to the State Aid Funding Formula for Fiscal Year 2016 for education.  This area was originally funded at $47.3 million but currently only $31 million has been received.  It appears that funding of education continues to be on a downward spiral just as schools are beginning to plan for the next school year leaving administrators in a true quandary in their attempt to provide mandated services.         

            Another area of concern on the Oklahoma education front is the awareness that our state could fall behind Mississippi relative to teacher pay since that state passed a sales tax measure providing teachers with a $2,500 annual pay increase for two years.  Even the very conservative South Dakota state legislature passed a sales tax intended to give their teachers an $8,500 yearly salary increase.  This leaves Oklahoma at the bottom of the nation in terms of teacher salaries.  We do have a state question (SQ 779) which will be on the November ballot providing for a 1 cent sales tax which could help the national image of our state relative to educational funding.  It will be up to the citizens of the state to address this issue because their legislative leaders chose to dodge this area of responsibility.

            Drug dealers, using the interstate highway system as routes to transport their illegal contraband and cash, have switched from cash to cards as means of negotiation currency.  To address this, our law enforcement (Oklahoma Highway Patrol) under the Department of Public Safety oversight began using Electronic Recovery and access to Data readers with 16 such devices assigned to troopers.  These are intended to apprehend those involved in identity theft or other illegal activities involving monetary transactions.  When there is probable cause evident, the trooper can ‘freeze’ assets related to these cards especially if a driver has possession of dozens of cards.  Over 25 other states use this new technology and their use has been upheld by the courts but Governor Fallin has called for the discontinuance of this law enforcement tool “until DPS can educate the public and calm the fears of the motoring public.”  My concern is that those violating our laws by changing from cash to cards will see this as a momentary free pass to travel though our state without being held to the same level of scrutiny as they experience in neighboring states.   

Contact Information: PO Box 98, Porum, OK  74455, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov,   918 448 5702.  Legislative Assistant, Connie Riley, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624. 

 

21st Journal of the Second Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

June 15th, 2016

              There continues to be numerous questions raised about the state’s budget that was recently passed.  Several constituents have asked me if our budget is so bad why did the Legislature give its members a pay raise as was reported in the Tulsa World.  The Legislature did not authorize an increase in the salaries of legislators.  In fact, the salary for legislators has not increased in the 10 years that I have served.  How then do I explain the confusion?  The truth is that the Republican Legislative leaders transferred payroll duties of the House and Senate to the Legislative Service Bureau (LSB) and in doing so appropriated an additional $4 million in the process.  Neither the House or Senate consolidated its members’ payroll under the LSB.  This additional revenue will possibly be used by the leaders for hiring additional staff or increasing the pay of their staff.  Again, none of this $4 million went to increase Legislators’ salaries!

             On a positive note, I had the pleasure of attending two meetings last week relating to protecting and enhancing the two major lakes in our area—Lake Eufaula and Lake Tenkiller.  At the first one, I observed the first formal meeting of the Lake Eufaula Advisory Committee (LEACH) that was created through the federal government with the assigned task of providing a “Reallocation Study.”  This was organized through the U.S. Corp of Engineers and will have the assignment of advising the Secretary of Defense and  Secretary of the Amy on several aspects of Lake Eufaula beyond its original and subsequent authorized functions such as navigation and hydro-electric power supply,   Eufaula City Manager, Greg Buckley will serve as Chairman and Connie Morris, Executive Director of Lake Eufaula Association, will serve as Vice-Chairperson as this committee assesses and reviews the numerous critical functions of this important asset of our state and nation.  Mrs. Morris stated, “I am super excited about the formulation of the Lake Eufaula Advisory Committee. Many people worked for many years and now we are going to benefit from all their hard work.  After nine years of waiting, the Advisory Committee is now officially at work."

             The next was the annual meeting of Greater Tenkiller Area Association (GTAA) that was held on the grounds of their beautiful cabin and camp site location overlooking Lake Tenkiller.  It was a pleasure to have Pennie Embry, President of Save Our Water—Lake Eufaula, join me at this meeting.  While their formal meeting consisted of nominating and electing officers for their organization, they also received reports on lake activities for the multiple holidays and their 4th of July fireworks extravaganza that is enjoyed by people from all over the state and beyond.   I was asked to present a legislative update and included in this presentation, I addressed one of the two focus issues of the GTAA relating specifically to water quality of the Lake’s water supply.  This led to a discussion of State Question 777 or what is called the “right to farm act” which Oklahomans will vote on in the General Election in November.  If it passes, the general consensus at the meeting was concern of the impact it could have on the water quality of the lakes and waterways of the state.   

Contact Information: PO Box 98, Porum, OK  74455, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov,   918 448 5702.  Legislative Assistant, Connie Riley, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624. 

 

20th Journal of the Second Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

June 9th, 2016

            Following the end of the legislative session, it’s time to draw certain conclusions of the Session’s budget process.  I’ll begin by referring to an article by Treavor Brown in Oklahoma Watch entitled “Reasons and troubles Behind Secretive crafting of State Budget.”  He suggests that from all sides of the issues there were surprises as the 140-page document was presented the last day of Session because during the 4 months preceding there was little open discussion.  As an example, the Education Budget and Appropriations Committee assigned to vet the Education portion of the budget did not see the budget until it was presented to the full House A and B.  The Center for Public Integrity in Washington D.C. graded our state’s transparency process as 5th lowest in the nation. 

            How do I explain what the budget impact will create? Perhaps it’s the “country boy” in me but I would explain it in the following manner.  The state leaders have finally come to realize that the $1.3 billion annual income tax cuts and the $2 billion annual tax incentives have created a major hole in our budget.  For this article this is Hole #1.  Therefore, they informed the legislators that we were to fill that hole.  My common sense told me that we should take some of the material that came out of this hole and return it to its origin.  However, the leadership did not think this way. The following is what they did and pretended each of the 4 fiscal measures would fill that hole.  However, they actually created 4 additional holes in our budget process impacting citizens and agencies that can least afford this negative impact to their lives.

 Hole #2 is based on agency cuts in the budget as follows:  Career Tech $15.5 million, Higher Ed $153 m, ODOT $30 m, Health Dept. $5 m, Mental Health $15 m, Veterans $4 m, Department of Human Services $27 m, Juvenile Affairs, $7 m, Rehabilitation Services $3 m, Public Safety $11 m., Indigent Care $1 m, and (Rural Economic Action Plan) REAP $1.2 m. Common or Public Education is also included in this which I will elaborate upon. You have been told that this portion of the budget was flat or not cut which is not true!    The reality was that the 2016/17 budget started with the mid-year cuts from the current budget year amounting to about $78 million plus several areas that were not “line itemed” in the budget such as Alternative Ed, Textbooks, School Activity Funds, and Rehabilitative Services.  This is not flat by any means!  All of these will cause our schools to come up with $186 million short of the 2015/16 common education budget. All totaled, the cuts to our state agencies were cut by at least $350 million. 

            The 3rd Hole was created by violating the State Constitution by borrowing $300 million in 15 year notes that leaders call bonds to avoid a constitutional challenge.  The 4th Hole, totaling $29 million, removed the Earned Income Tax Credit for 200,000 lower income working families and the 5th Hole added a $5 fee or tax to the purchase of car tags which is estimated to be about $5 million. There were others created that are yet to be identified.

           

Contact Information: PO Box 98, Porum, OK  74455, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov,   918 448 5702.  Legislative Assistant, Connie Riley, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624. 

 

19th Journal of the Second Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

June 3rd, 2016

           This year’s budget slashes vital services in education, public health, public safety, environmental protection, veterans’ services, mental health, juvenile care, transportation, rehabilitation services and more.  On education, the leadership claims that the budget was flat but in reality the $58 million that was cut from the current year was continued into 2016/17 school year.  Major cuts in higher education will result in community and regional colleges and state universities having to increase tuition for the students wishing to advance their education.    In the same context, our Career Tech schools will experience a loss of $15 million in state revenue. 

            A major point of controversy was the majority party’s push to raise the cigarette tax by $1.50 to fund the increased needs of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA).  The problem is that the OHCA budget actually received a $20 million increase and its CEO Nico Gomez sent out an email statement complementing the legislature for “protecting health care access for thousands of Oklahoma kids, pregnant mothers, and seniors and individuals with disabilities.”  In the end, it failed to receive the votes needed to pass.  Interestingly, the leadership did not need a special tax to budget a 140 percent increase for their Legislative Services Bureau without assigning any additional responsibilities. It is equally confusing that the leadership of the House rejected a proposal from our Governor to accept an annual $900 million of federal health care dollars from the federal government.  These are dollars that Oklahoma citizens have paid to the federal government in the form of taxes.

            I have never made reference to the national news media in reporting the activities at the State Capitol.  However, the fact that this budget will have such a negative impact on such a large number of our states’ citizens, causes me to share  an article in The New York Times which reported the following concerns relating to the final aspects of the budget process: “As they sliced and diced state programs  to close a budget deficit, Republicans controlling the Oklahoma Legislature cruelly targeted some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens—the working poor—by cutting an average $147 a year from the income of 200,000 households.  This may seem negligible to the state’s wealthy and middle class, but not to a poor family with a breadwinner struggling at the margins.  The method chosen is deplorable—cutting the state’s share of the earned-income tax credit for low-income workers, a federal program widely praised as an effective lift from poverty.”

            “After years of enacting generous tax cuts for the wealthy and for the powerful oil industry, the Oklahoma Legislature was facing falling revenues and resorted to an assortment of questionable cuts to close the $1.3 billion deficit.  None is more regressive than penalizing the working poor.  It will net an estimated $29 million for the state coffers while cutting $312 for a family with three or more children and a parent earning $13,850 a year…. In contrast, the Oklahoma Legislature—gave the Oklahoma oil and gas industry $470 million in tax relief last year—among the most generous in the nation …. The effects from the anticipated budget cuts are already being felt. State colleges are being hit with cuts near 16 percent ($153 million).”

In future Journals I will expand in greater detail on the total impact that this Session will have on the citizens of House District 15. 

 

Contact Information: PO Box 98, Porum, OK  74455, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov,   918 448 5702.  Legislative Assistant, Connie Riley,, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624 at the Capitol. 

 

 

 

18th Journal of the Second Legislative Session of the 55th Legislature

May 26th, 2016

This week began with the House hearing and passing an important education measure, HB 3218. It fundamentally provides our state with an opportunity to make a transition away from the End of Instruction tests which were intended to measure our public school students’ achievements but that goal was not met. HB 3218 instructs the State Department of Education to use the next school year as a period to identify and submit to the legislature alternative assessment tools which accurately measures the preparedness of our students to move to their next level of education based on statewide standards.  In addition, this new law will require that there be measurement of how well our students perform compared to those in other states.  The hope is that this will actually minimize the number and excessively high cost of end of year assessments for our state and schools.    The need was made evident by the House on a vote of 95 yes and 1 no.    

            To go to the other side of the coin, the House passed a very unpopular bill, SB 1604 by vote of 45 to 31.  It is designed to address the budget hole on the backs of the working poor to middle class to the tune of $28.9 million in the form of doing away with earned income tax credits which will impact 200,000 citizens who can least afford this tax increase.   For households with three or more children, the loss could be as much as $312 a year and could reduce their annual income by up to 2.3 percent.  The reduction would affect about 1 in 10 households that file individual tax returns in our state.  It is shocking how any legislator in our rural area of eastern Oklahoma could willingly throw these folks under the “proverbial bus” while protecting the $1 billion in tax exemptions for the top end of our state’s citizens.  Former Governor Frank Keating who signed this into law 15 years ago has stated, “I have long felt the refundable tax credit made sense because it provided an aggressive lift to the working poor.”

            As we begin the final days of this session we are wrestling with the budget even though this is our 17th week.  It becomes a bit of a stretch to indicate that we have a balanced budget, as our state constitution requires, when the first major bill to hit the floor was HB3231 a bill for borrowing $200 million in the form of a 15-year bond with interest totaling $15 million a year.  This will be a total debt by the state of $440 million to provide revenue for our Department of Transportation.   Many are saying that the leaders have not met the challenge of our historic budget shortfall of $1.3 billion.  This is evident in light of the fact that there are millions of dollars left on the table by these leaders’ not rolling back reckless tax cuts and incentives that were never supposed to take place within this type of economic crisis.  I am not indicating that our Oklahoma Department of Transportation does not need this revenue but there are other means of provide for it rather than borrowing which our Constitution prohibits.   The House passed this bill by a vote of 55 to 38 and it must now go to the Senate.  I will provide a complete analysis of the budget in my next budget.  

 

Contact Information: PO Box 98, Porum, OK  74455, ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov,   918 448 5702.  Legislative Assistant, Glenda Johnson, at 1 800 522 8502 or 405 557 7375 and fax 405 962 7624 at the Capitol.