Agreement Great News for State
By State Rep. Earl Sears
For the first time in recent memory, Oklahoma is spending less in its budget in a year when we could spend more because of higher revenues.
That's big news, as it was a goal of mine to come to Oklahoma City and reach conservative goals, such as fiscal responsibility.
This agreement will also likely ensure that the people's business will be tied up nicely before the constitutionally-mandated legislative adjournment on the last Friday of May, the 25th.
House Bill 1234, which had originally been passed by the House and Senate earlier in the year, but was vetoed by the governor, has now been agreed to by all parties. This agreement is built around that bill, of which 100 percent is still included.
Last year as a state, Oklahoma's budget was $7.196 billion. For the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1st, the state budget is $7.188 billion. That's a difference $8 million, which is a step in the right direction. Especially when you consider that the state received a surplus of taxpayer dollars.
This agreement will save all Oklahomans money. The new budget has provisions for more tax cuts, including:
* Childcare tax
credit. This measure will help families with stay-at-home parents who
wish to raise their child at home and live on only one income.
The new budget agreement will also address the problems the Department of Corrections faces by way of a top-to-bottom, independent audit. That transformational study will examine DOC inside and out to fix its flaws and properly repair the system. In the past, we've just tried giving it band-aid supplements, which have failed. This study will ensure the long-term health of the system charged with housing our state's criminals.
Education wasn't forgotten, either. While we have raised teacher pay by record amounts over the past three years - more than $4,800 including this year's raise - we're going a step further by introducing a merit-based pay system to reward teachers who have more experience or hold advanced degrees. We'll also spend the next year building a performance-based pay plan to reward the best teachers in the state.
At the college level, a new tuition-lock program that locks in rates for four years of school will keep bright young Oklahomans here for college and will help working families afford the cost of school. The Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program is also being re-vamped. Under this agreement, OHLAP will have GPA requirements placed upon it. This means that only students who show they can maintain solid academic scores will receive assistance from this program.
This is a great agreement for our state and will address many major issues we're facing in our state. Best of all, we won't waste taxpayer's money coming back in June to hammer out a budget.
Remember, I'm here at the Capitol working for you. If you ever need any assistance with anything, feel free to contact me.
Earl Sears (R- Bartlesville) serves District 11 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He can be contacted by phone at (405) 557-7358 or via e-mail at email@example.com.