EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a continuing series of stories about the Senate District 41 Republican primary race. To read previous stories, see www.edmondsun.com.
State Senate District 41 hopeful Paul Blair said one thing in Oklahoma stays the same regardless of whether the state has a Republican- or Democrat-controlled Legislature. The $6.8 billion state budget approved in May for 2013 included $321 million in increased spending, Blair said.
“Government spending increases and government grows,” Blair complained.
State Sen. Clark Jolley, an attorney, and Blair, owner of a vending company and a church pastor, debated the state budget concerns at a recent forum sponsored by the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce. The Republicans will face off in the June 26 primary election for District 41. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Unlike most people’s home budgets, state spending has increased by 72 percent during the last decade, Blair said.
“If I am elected, I will not vote for a budget increase,” Blair said. “If we had only increased our budget 50 percent over the last 10 years, we could have zero corporate income tax and zero personal income tax today. We have to be more efficient.”
Blair said state government is able to hide certain bills in committee, allowing them to die without transparency. Every bill should have an up and down vote, Blair said.
More than 2,000 bills per year are submitted by state lawmakers, Jolley told The Edmond Sun. He also said the actual budget increase for 2012-13 in state spending is $209 million.
“Don’t let them fool you. They say, ‘We don’t have time for that.’ Yes, they do,” Blair said. “Go down and watch them work one of these days. They gather around some of their softball games and some of the other activity they’re involved in.”
Blair said he wants everything on record. Every bill that’s submitted should in the process include other legislators’ opinions, he said.
“And then when it comes to re-election, their constituents can look at their votes and say, I agree with that guy or I disagree with that guy,” Blair said of changes he would like to see in state government.
Currently, legislative votes on issues are available to the public. If it is a vote that took place in the House go to okhouse.gov, click on the legislation menu link and click on the House Votes sub-menu item. If it is a vote that took place in the Senate go to oksenate.gov,click on the legislation menu link at the top of the page and click on the Senate Votes link on the side menu.
State budget matters
Jolley said the state budget was the largest it had ever been in fiscal year 2010 with $7.2 billion. The most recent appropriation to the state was $6.8 billion.
“Since fiscal year 2010, the state appropriations were cut 11.75 percent,” Jolley said. “They were cut in fiscal year ’12 by 1 percent. In fiscal year ’13, they went up 3.2 percent. In the last two years under Republican control that we have heard so much about, we have grown state government by a whopping 2.2 percent.”
Federal spending in Oklahoma accounts for a big chunk of the budget, Jolley said.
Jolley along with Republican state Treasurer Ken Miller were authors of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights promoted by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs in 2004.
“We tried to see if we could limit government spending growth to population plus inflation growth,” Jolley said. “That was maligned as ‘No, you can’t do that. That will wreck state spending.’
“Under this rule, the state of Oklahoma would have been eligible to grow this year by 4.21 percent,” Jolley said. “Oklahoma beat it by 1.08 points.
“This year as appropriations chair, I left $15 million sitting on the table unspent,” Jolley said.
Gov. Mary Fallin said the budget that was produced limits the growth of government while providing a boost to core services and initiatives. She said the last session paved the way for repairing the state’s 706 deficient bridges. Core services of education, public safety and public health are protected by the budget, she said. Several pieces of legislation related to energy were passed this year to create more jobs, Fallin said in May when signing the budget into law.
“The budget also provides for some very necessary changes at the Department of Human Services to better protect our children and to ensure we’re doing everything we can to ensure that agency runs in an appropriate manner,” Fallin said.
Funding for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner passed as part of the general appropriations bill, Jolley said. The cost of constructing the office is not to exceed $42 million. The budget provides $2.5 million for infrastructure improvements to the agency.
Other spending included in the $321 million above last fiscal year’s budget will go toward funding an Oklahoma Highway Patrol Academy to bring on 35-40 new state troopers to replace about the same number of troopers who are retiring annually. The Legislature approved the Pinnacle Plan to reform the Department of Human Services, which is another expenditure new in the budget. About $100 million of the $321 million was put back toward transportation funding, which was used in the 2011 session to balance the budget that year.