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The politics of revenue raising matters for health care and teachers (Capitol Update)

by | February 24th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education, Healthcare | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

There are couple of big issues starting their trek through the legislative process, and the way they ultimately get handled will affect the state’s long-range structural challenges. The first challenge concerns raising the cigarette tax and dedicating the proceeds to health care agencies. In the last several years, legislative and executive leaders have blamed the general revenue shortfall on too many revenue sources being taken “off the top” for some specific purpose, thus never reaching the general revenue fund.

The current cigarette tax proposal increases the tax by $1.50 per pack and specifically directs where the money must be spent. This is the same as taking it off the top. The only difference is the revenue goes to the general revenue fund, but it is required by law to be spent for a specific purpose. This limits the flexibility of future legislatures to appropriate the money where it may be more urgently needed without changing the law.

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Governor’s budget shows how bad Oklahoma’s fiscal health has gotten (Capitol Update)

by | February 17th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Taxes | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Looking at Governor Fallin’s FY-18 budget proposal makes one realize how poor the fiscal condition of the state is. If the Legislature and the governor were to dedicate themselves to doing everything necessary to work our way out of the current budget dilemma, it still would take years. Our recent practice of patching things together with tax cuts and budget cuts, robbing various funds, borrowing, and betting on the come that there will be a quick turnaround in the Oklahoma economy has only dug the hole deeper. At least the governor and many in the Legislature have concluded that will no longer work.

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‘Shame on us’ if we don’t address over-incarceration this year (Capitol Update)

by | February 10th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (3)

OK Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary last week and presented his request for an additional $1.165 billion appropriation for next fiscal year. The request is, of course, totally unrealistic, and Allbaugh knows it. But he’s trying to make the point that we are incarcerating too many people in Oklahoma, and we’re not treating those who are incarcerated right. In addition, we are wasting taxpayer money.

Also, last week Governor Fallin’s Criminal Justice Task Force released its final report. It was a real eye-opener! The report says that the Task Force “analyzed the state’s sentencing, corrections, and community supervision data and reviewed the latest research on reducing recidivism and improving public safety. The Task Force found that:

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Senate Republicans release agenda, but no easy answers for how to accomplish it (Capitol Update)

by | February 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz and members of the Senate Republican Caucus announcing their 2017 legislative agenda

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

State Senate Republicans, who hold 42 of the 48 seats in the Senate, held a press conference this week and outlined their agenda for the 2017 legislative session in a press release. President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus said “Senate Republicans are united in our desire to implement ideas and policies that will help our state’s economy grow and put us on a long-term path to prosperity. Helping our economy grow means more good paying jobs for Oklahoma families and more resources to fund core government services without raising taxes.”

To support education the Senate Republican plan includes respecting and supporting teachers by removing obstacles to a teachers’ ability to help students learn and achieve; reducing administrative costs to increase teacher salaries; allowing parents, taxpayers and local school boards to more closely direct and increase the quality of classroom education; and ensuring accountability measures to provide parents and taxpayers a useful and accurate reflection of school performance and student achievement.

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Thousands of new bills were filed this week in Oklahoma (Capitol Update)

by | January 20th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Yesterday, January 19th, was the second formal deadline of the upcoming session. All bills creating new substantive law had to be filed by the close of business. House and Senate members have developed a custom of waiting until right before the deadline before filing their bills. As of Monday, only 119 bills and 1 Joint Resolution had been filed in the House, and 171 bills and 8 Joint Resolutions had been filed in the Senate. By Thursday night, a total of 2,148 bills and resolutions had been filed for consideration this session.

Going through all of these proposals makes for a frenetic several weeks. It takes a while for all the proposed legislation to be discovered and understood. When most all the bills are filed at the same time, some tend to get buried. You can always count on a collection of gun bills, abortion bills, and other “values” legislation to grab a lot of attention. This is the time people get very worried and spend a lot of energy on measures that may be going nowhere. It’s a good idea to keep in mind that these proposals are important to someone or they wouldn’t get filed. And you can’t stop a legislator from filing legislation. While it pays to pay attention, just because a bill gets filed doesn’t mean it’s going to become law.

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Budget hearings illuminate needs of Oklahoma’s major agencies (Capitol Update)

by | January 13th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

To better inform more House members about the state budget, Speaker Charles McCall has made budget briefings by some of the major state agencies available to all House members. They’ve been held in the House Chamber with all members invited. This is a good idea, especially with the budget crisis the Legislature is facing and with 32 new House members. Usually these briefings, although they are open to everyone, are for the benefit of and mostly attended by the members of the Appropriations and Budget Committee.

There are going to be some difficult votes for legislators, regardless of what direction they take. The more the members know about the budget problems, the more open they’ll be to finding and supporting solutions. Also, the better they’ll be able to explain their votes to constituents. After all, the votes are, or should be, cast in the best interest of constituents. Representing is more than waving a finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. It’s also about digging beneath the surface and doing the right thing for the public. To do the right thing members must be able to feel they can explain what they did and why they did it.

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Is Oklahoma due for a change in direction on the budget? (Capitol Updates)

by | January 6th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Taxes | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

The turning of a new year is a time when people tend to reflect on the past and look toward the future. I’ve been thinking about the past few legislative sessions and what they mean for the upcoming session. A famous quotation from Shakespeare comes to mind that says “what’s past is prologue.” I’m not strong on interpreting literature, but I suppose this means that what has happened in the past leads to what will happen next. Or said another way, it could mean that the past provides the context for what will happen next. Or it could simply mean we’re in for more of the same.

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A look at the new leadership team in the Oklahoma House (Capitol Update)

by | December 16th, 2016 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

As the legislature continued last week to organize itself for the next session, Speaker-elect Charles McCall announced his senior leadership team in the House. The leadership positions that exercise the most control over the direction of state policy shift from time to time according to the formal and informal duties of an office and the personalities of the legislators who have been appointed.

For most of the time I served, the top four spots on the leadership team under the Speaker were the Majority Floor Leader, the Chairman and vice-chairman of the Appropriations and Budget Committee and the First Assistant Majority Floor Leader. The Speaker Pro Tempore would float in and out depending on who was elected and his relationship with the Speaker. Generally, the top leaders were those regularly invited to negotiation sessions with the senate and the governor on major policies, including the state budget.

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Without new revenue, we can expect more of the same problems (Capitol Updates)

by | December 9th, 2016 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

the same old thinking and disappointing resultsSteve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

The way legislators are talking now, the top agenda item for next session will be finding a way to give teachers a pay raise. No doubt those running for election this year got an earful from their constituents about the condition of our schools. Lawmakers seem to be interpreting the failure of SQ 779 as a message that people want a pay raise for teachers but they don’t want a tax increase.

At the state chamber legislative forum last week, Speaker-elect Charles McCall expressed support for education but said new taxes would not be on the table. Senate President Pro-Tempore-elect Mike Schulz said he wants a teacher pay raise, and it will likely be incremental. These two statements together point to a continuation of the budget policies of the past few years. That is, when a budget issue reaches a perceived crisis level, the Legislature earmarks revenue from incremental growth in the economy to “solve” the problem without any new revenue sources. This has happened twice recently, once to fix roads and once to fund state retirement systems.

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The irresistible forces and the immovable object of the 2017 legislative session (Capitol Updates)

by | November 23rd, 2016 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (2)

boxing gloves hitting each otherSteve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

It’s nearly impossible to predict what will happen in the 2017 Legislature. What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Well, the answer could be anything from a big explosion to a simple standoff with nothing happening.

If you predict an explosion, we could instead see the Legislature stroll wearily home in May having patched together a pathetic budget and having left most of the state’s challenges for a better day. Conversely, if you predict a standstill Legislature, we might instead see an explosion of action bringing budget and tax reform that meets 21st century challenges in education, criminal justice, health care, mental health, energy, the environment and vulnerable children and the elderly.

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