The Edmond Sun

May 9, 2014

Legislators preview state budget deal to chamber

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — A state Senate bill has been signed by Gov. Mary Fallin to boost the salary for the Highway Patrol, said state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond. The pay raise is contingent on budget funding, he said.

He spoke Friday at the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast featuring state lawmakers representing Edmond.

“We have it in our budget. The House has it in their budget. The governor has it in hers,” said Jolley, Appropriations chairman for the Oklahoma Senate. “That’s usually a pretty good indication it will happen at the end of the year. So it’s our hope that we give the highway patrol the badly needed raise that they need.”

State employees are overdue a pay raise, Jolley said. Studies show their pay is under market, while some benefits are above market, Jolley said. Department of Corrections officers need a raise to keep them from leaving the force, Jolley said.

Meanwhile, the state faces a $188 million budget shortfall this year, according to House Speaker Jeff Hickman.

The House and Senate are close to making a budget decision, Jolley said. But Gov. Fallin has different ideas, he said.

“The governor is very reluctant in some of the areas we think we need to maintain funding,” Jolley said. “The governor’s office is not in agreement with us.”

They are all in agreement that common education will have the largest budget increase in state government, but not as large as what common education wants, he said.

Every state agency will experience a 5.5-percent budget cut, with the savings placed in education, Jolley said.

“We are going to keep our Medicaid cuts as minimal as possible,” as he summarized the challenges that lawmakers face this legislative session at the state Capitol.

A bill that defines the difference between local law and a state laws was co-authored by Jolley and state Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond. It successfully passed through the House and Senate.

Several years ago there was a movement to allow unions to participate in certain sized cities, Jolley said.

“Edmond fell within that size and we were then put under where we had a municipality that was forced to deal with a brand new union,” Jolley said. “But it didn’t work for other cities. It didn’t work for other towns. It just worked for certain locations.”

That law was challenged on whether or not it was a special law or a local law, Jolley said. The state Supreme Court struck down the law and within two weeks reinstated it, he said.

In defining what a special law is, Grau and Jolley have added clarity to the definition of state and local laws in order to stop the court from selectively choosing what a special law is. The bill is an important legal reform, Jolley said.

Budget negotiations continue between the House and Senate about how to fund state Capitol repairs. Republican state Sen. Greg Treat of Oklahoma City said it is urgent to prevent further deterioration of the Capitol building. Fixing it is a core function of government, Treat said.

Treat said he has been an opponent of bonds, but will join others in supporting a bond to fix it.

Jolley said lawmakers need to decide whether they will do a Capitol bond. If so, will it be for $120 million or $160 million, Jolley said. Legislators must decide if  the bond adviser will decide what is best for the state or whether they dictate policy to him, Jolley said.

Capping the bond for 10 years would be more expensive than a 15- or 20-year cap, said Jolley, a candidate for the Congressional 5th District.

GOP candidates for 5th District also include Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas, state Rep. Shane Jett, former state Sen. Steve Russell, former congressional aide Harvey Sparks and state Rep. Mike Turner.

Democrats running for the 5th District include former UCO professor Tom Guild of Edmond; state Sen. Al McAffrey of Oklahoma City; and Leona Leonard, chair of the Seminole County Democratic Party.

The three Independent candidates running for the 5th District include Tom Boggs who currently lives in Thailand, Buddy Ray of Edmond, and Robert Murphy of Norman. | 341-2121