From the Desk of Sen. Zack Taylor: Budget negotiations heat up

Sen. Zack Taylor

Budget negotiations are heating up as we get closer to the end of session. Our main constitutional duty each session is passing a balanced budget. This means we can only spend the amount certified by the State Board of Equalization. They tell us how big the revenue pie is each year, and our job is to divide it among our state agencies in Oklahoma and save some to help stabilize future budgets. Unlike the federal government, we can only spend what we have available each year.

Legislative leaders are meeting daily to work out the finer details of the budget. Then once a week, committee chairs are updated and give their input. Every day, we’re getting closer to an agreement.

Among the hot topics being discussed in negotiations is additional funding for common education, especially for textbooks. Education received an additional $600 million in CARES funding and an additional $1.49 billion under the American Rescue Plan. We’re working on defining how some of that extra funding can be used. But rest assured, education will be well-funded this year.

We’re also trying to figure out how to fund the Medicaid expansion that was approved last summer. It’s going to cost at least an extra $164 million annually. While we’ve received several hundred million through the federal relief package, that is one-time funds, so it’s essential we figure out a plan of how to pay for this additional expense moving forward.

Many topics are being discussed as negotiations move forward; however, too many to list here. I’ll keep you posted as the process moves forward. 

As Sine Die approaches, more and more bills are moving to the governor’s office. He’s now signed more than 400 into law. Among them, this week was my SB 939, which provides that any critical infrastructure company or entity that acts in compliance with or acts consistently with government rules, guidelines, or laws applicable to its sector won’t constitute a nuisance.

Two major employment bills have been signed. The first is a major reform to our state’s human resources system for state agencies, which hasn’t been updated in nearly 40 years. After researching systems from around the nation, this plan should be a tremendous improvement for the state’s 36,000 state employees by creating greater flexibility for hiring, advancing, promoting, rewarding, and pay within state agencies.

The other measure creates universal professional and occupational licensing for those moving to Oklahoma. In order to grow our economy, we must have a business-friendly environment, and this, along with reforms passed in recent years, will help us achieve that goal. The bill promotes license mobility while recognizing the education and experience earned in other states. This will cut through the unnecessary red tape and help qualified professionals get to work immediately.

After enduring such a challenging year, I’m optimistic about our state’s future. The state treasurer announced this week that April gross receipts increased by over 38% from April 2020 due to record oil and gas production tax collections, along with higher sales and income tax payments. It’s exciting to see the oil and gas industry rebounding. Gross production taxes on oil and natural gas rose 73%, while sales and tax receipts jumped 32%. Our unemployment rate has remained steady or fallen in recent weeks, leaving us with one of the lowest rates in the nation. Businesses are expanding and hiring at an encouraging pace. Governor Stitt ended the COVID-19 State of Emergency this week as the seven-day average of new cases has dropped 94% from its highest point, and hospitalizations are down 90%. Around 38% of our state’s population have received at least one shot, while more than 1.1 million Oklahomans are fully vaccinated. The future is bright.

To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Zack Taylor, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 446, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at Zack.Taylor@oksenate.gov or call (405) 521-5547.