With the state struggling the last few years with budget shortfalls, uneasy residents had the opportunity Friday to hear from local legislators about how the budget operates and why things may not be as simple as they seem regarding Oklahoma's finances.

With the state struggling the last few years with budget shortfalls, uneasy residents had the opportunity Friday to hear from local legislators about how the budget operates and why things may not be as simple as they seem regarding Oklahoma's finances.

State Rep. Josh Cockroft, state Sen. Jason Smalley, state Rep. Dell Kerbs and state Sen. Ron Sharp attended the gathering, hoping to share some insight into difficulties they are encountering with working out the state's budget.

Ronnye Perry Sharp, chamber chair, acted as moderator for the Q-and-A discussion.

A recent revenue proposal was put forward to the legislature by the Step-Up coalition, which is headed by a large group of area businesses.

“They came up with a revenue package that could hopefully be passed and set our state on a better path from a financial standpoint,” Cockroft said.

He voted for the proposal.

“We have to stop governing from crisis to crisis,” he said, “we have to put ourselves on better financial standing for the state.”

Included in that package was going to be money for $5,000 teacher pay raises.

“Through further negotiations, while that vote was being held open, there was a plan put on the table to give state employees a pay raise, as well,” he said.

As a conservative, Cockroft said it was a difficult vote to take, but he said the state has to put itself on a better path going forward.

The measure failed to reach the required number of votes.

“Seventy-five percent of the House has to support a measure like that before it can get to the Senate,” he said. “That's because of Republicans and Democrats.”

He added there's been a lot of partisan politics played the last couple weeks, trying to lay blame on one side or the other.

“It's both; it's dysfunctionality that has brought us to this point,” Cockroft said.

Another revenue package was put together without that need for that 75-percent threshold, he said, which passed last week and the governor signed it two days ago.

“Now we are turning our focus to the 2019 fiscal year that starts this June,” he said. “While not great, the budget outlook at this point is a lot better.”

Cockroft said the state is now looking at a budget shortfall of about $167 million.

“I realize that's still a shortfall, but coming from where we've been, it's getting better,” he said. “Our economy is on the uptick.”

Despite his optimism, Cockroft said it will continue to be difficult to find funding for the core services that have either been cut for the past several years or are in desperate need of extra funding.

Smalley said a lesson he learned from the failure of Step Up was there a issues on both sides of the political parties.

“There are some folks out there that do want to do some bipartisan work together,” he said, “But I think it shows we have a far right and a far left.”

Smalley said as lawmakers move forward this year is going to be tough.

“We proved that we can't get new revenue through a 75-percent majority vote in Oklahoma,” he said.

So what's next?

“Next, is doing away with exemptions,” he said. “And that will only take 51 votes.”

He said tax exemptions near and dear to Oklahomans, like farm implements and social security.

“When you're talking about how we should be raising revenue through gas taxes and cigarette taxes, that might be one issue where you're opposed,” he said. “But let's start talking about the alternative — that's now calling back exemptions that Oklahomans have had for many, many years, which is ultimately dollar bills that are in their pockets every day. Things they probably didn't realize they had until we take that away.”

Smalley said he thinks that's a very close reality to what lawmakers are up against right now.

Meeting at City Hall, the Legislative Luncheon was hosted by Tecumseh's Chamber of Commerce. Another public meeting with the legislators is scheduled for March 23.

Watch for more of the discussion in a future edition of The Shawnee News-Star.