"When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened." – Rev. Billy Graham
With a new governor and 40% of the legislature being new, this session will certainly be different than my last six years.
The State Equalization Board has estimated the legislature will have about $614 million in additional revenue if all economic factors stay constant. The legislature remains cautiously optimistic. There are many economic factors that could change that amount including the fact that the energy industry is our main source of revenue and it has fallen recently. If the price of oil falls further, it’ll negatively impact the amount of revenue available to be appropriated. The Board bases their estimate on what these revenue sources have done over the last year and plan accordingly.
Being a businessman, Governor-elect Stitt has related his reluctance for this additional revenue to be spent. Everyone is anxiously waiting to hear his proposed budget.
The Board will submit their revised revenue estimate in mid-February and that’s the one the legislature is constitutionally-required to use for the FY’20 budget.
Despite Governor-elect Stitt’s announcement, state agencies have continued requesting additional funds. Nearly all of the roughly 70 state agencies have endured steep budget cuts over the past decade and have been waiting for the state to have a revenue surplus. Hopefully, our economy continues to strengthen and revenue keeps climbing so the legislature can continue restoring their various budgets.
The Oklahoma Senate will also have new leadership. Sen. Greg Treat of Oklahoma City will become the President Pro-Tempore. Sen. Kim David of Porter will be the first woman in Oklahoma history to serve as Majority Floor Leader after also being the first woman to serve as Appropriations Chair the last two years. Sen. Roger Thompson of Okemah will take her place as Chair of Appropriations.
The constitutional leader of the Senate will be newly-elected Lieutenant Governor, Matt Pinnell. However, because of his extended duties, except for the first day, he will rarely be in the Senate chamber to assume the presidency. Lt. Governors are called in to break ties and proceed over various ceremonies.
Pro Tem Treat has served eight years in the Senate. Last year, he served as the Floor Leader. Before his special election in 2011, he worked as field representative for former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. He is shaking things up including our committee assignments. He’s removed me from the Education, Transportation and Energy Committees and put me on the Judiciary, Insurance & Pensions, and Government Affairs Committees. Being the longest-tenured teacher in the Senate, and possibly the House, I was shocked to be removed from the Education Committee as there are other members who have never taught or worked in a school on the committee including the committee Chairman.
While I’m knowledgeable about both insurance and pension bills that will be considered in that committee, there will be many bills I’d consider unwise to cast a vote on as a retired teacher on the Teacher Retirement System. This is called "constitutional privilege" for reasons of personal benefit. While this doesn’t concern most legislators, I won’t cast such a vote.
Unfortunately, another retired teacher who was recently elected to Senate was also assigned to the Insurance and Pensions Committee. Sen. Brenda Stanley has expressed her concerns on this problem of personal benefit as well. .
This is a common problem though with a citizen legislature. Oklahoma legislators are considered part-time employees and most have full time jobs outside of the legislature in order to support their families.
It’s important to have legislators who have knowledge and expertise in various professions in order to author legislation to improve or regulate that particular business. We’re expected to be experts in so many areas so it’s nice to have a wide array of professional backgrounds.
Lawyers are probably the legislators criticized the most because they typically benefit financially from the laws they write. However, the most problematic laws are the one written by individuals without any legal knowledge of the possible consequences of their new laws.
This new legislative session promises to have challenges. The legislature needs your continued prayers for divine guidance as they make decisions this session for our great State of Oklahoma.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Ron Sharp, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 412, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5539.