M. Scott Carter reports on politics, legislation and other issues from the State Capitol.
Oklahoma lawmakers return to the state Capitol Monday, facing a $300 million budget hole, calls for prison reform and a renewed push to reduce the number of tax incentives offered by the state.
The session will open at noon, when both Houses of the Legislature meet jointly to hear Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s state of the state address. Under the Oklahoma Constitution, lawmakers will have 90 days to complete their work.
While the state’s budget will take the most time, other proposals – including bills that prevent gay married couples from accessing public services and proposals to allow guns to be openly carried throughout the state – await the legislature.
On Jan. 28, Fallin previewed her upcoming speech. She told members of the state press corps that she wanted to “address things that hold our state back.”
The governor said she would push incentives to improve Oklahomans’ health, graduate more students from high school and reduce the state’s incarceration level.
“Our number one goal is to protect the citizens of our state,” she said. “But we also know that we have a large population in our state that are serving time in our correctional institutions that are first-time, non-violent offenders. We must do a better job on incarceration rates.”
Fallin also warned state agency directors to prepare for budget cuts. She said the state has about $900 million in agency revolving funds that could be used for the budget.
Oklahoma Senate president pro tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, predicted said the low price of crude oil would be a challenge for the legislature.
“Once we start seeing drilling rigs and oil field service equipment parked in parking lots that’s a concern to me,” Bingman said. “It will be in the back of my mind as we make up the budget.”
House Democratic Scott Inman, D-Del City, said his caucus would focus on the middle class.
“As the economy improves in Oklahoma, a lot of the folks in the middle class are getting squeeze, they are not seeing the benefits of that economic growth,” he said.
Inman said Democrats would “measure every piece of legislation with the yardstick of is it good for the middle class.”