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

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.

What are the irresistible forces? Well, there are state agency leaders, educators, citizens, and generally those in the know who are devoting their efforts to solving society’s difficult challenges. They are pushing hard for better solutions. Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh has asked for $1.65 billion in new funding and warned that “something bad” could happen soon without help. Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, despite her legal entanglements, has sounded the alarm for a teacher pay raise and been joined by some legislators. Meanwhile Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline predicts “dire consequences” if the Health Department sees another budget cut next year and Mental Health Commissioner Terri White warned that even last year’s cuts could lead to reduced access to treatment, increased suicide rates and aggravation of the state’s prison problems. These are the irresistible forces.

What about the immovable object? Current year revenue is already failing to reach projected levels needed to fund this year’s budget. Last year this resulted in mid-year revenue failures and mandatory budget reductions. Oil prices remain low and unemployment is slightly up in Oklahoma. Because of “one-time” funding for this year we are facing a predicted $700 million deficit for next year even if revenues remain stable. This is the immovable object: there’s not enough money unless something is done by legislators.

We have able new leadership in both the House and Senate. The governor has “reset” her staff. We have 45 new legislators, plus the 104 who remain, bringing their talents to the task. Republicans have grown their majority with a 75-26 margin in the House and a 42-6 margin in the Senate. What’s your prediction? Will there be an explosion of action to “fix this”? Will we stay stuck where we are? Or could we see legislators aim for the politically safe sweet spot in the middle — half measures that look like accomplishments but accomplish little?


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

2 thoughts on “The irresistible forces and the immovable object of the 2017 legislative session (Capitol Updates)

  1. I have no confidence that an explosion of good things will happen. I don’t see the leadership that acknowledges our obligations to future generations by doing as our forefathers did by investing in our commons. The continued erosion of state resources (read taxes) will not be addressed and so the options are very limited. Fund mental health adequately? Never have and it seems never will. Teacher pay raises? Hey, they get the summer off so don’t need a raise. Highways, bridges, parks, all can be better run by private industry (not) who can make a profit. Can you say toll roads, toll bridges, private parks?
    No Ron Norick or George Nigh or other leaders that had a positive vision and acknowledged the need for revenue like “MAPS”. Oklahoma is leading the nation in earthquakes and that’s about it. Come to think of it that may lead to an explosion! Good luck to us all.

  2. when public schools funded by taxpayers can afford private programs like the international bacccalaureate program, it does not inspire us to believe that there is any problem with funding teacher pay raises but rather a waste of funds at the top of the hierarchy with too many districts and therefore superintendents (oklahoma being one of few states where superintendents are too numerous and overpaid) and school boards who vote to approve such costly unecessary programs oklahoma needs to cut the waste at the top and elect board members with conservative values who will not push global agendas down parent’s throats. international baccalaureate is referred to as common core on steroids. thanks for representing oklahoma!

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