Two insider takes on the 2015 legislative session

Editor’s note: We came across these two thoughtful takes on the 2015 session, with a particular emphasis on the budget, from Senate Republican Mike Mazzei and House Democrat Ben Loring. Their assessments offer some stark contrasts but also some surprising agreement.  The articles are posted here with the authors’ permission.

Sen. Mike Mazzei: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Mike Mazzeimazzei_bio has represented Senate District 25 since 2004. This summary was originally posted for his followers on his Facebook page.

Halleluiah! The 2015 Legislative Session ended one week early and after some time of reflection, I can now provide some highlights for my annual “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” report.

The Good – In spite of a $611 million deficit, we managed to avoid reducing K-12 education funding from the previous year. We also initiated some tax reform by eliminating the five-year property tax exemption for new wind power facilities for an annual savings of $45 million. For hopefully more tax reform in the future, we established a new evaluation system to analyze every tax incentive in the tax code over a four- year cycle. Tulsa won a big victory with approval of a financing package for the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, which according to my analysis, would provide significant net economic benefits to both Tulsa and the state. And finally, we joined almost every other state in the nation to ban texting while driving.

The Bad – In spite of the efforts of many, including myself, we barely made a dent in changing the operational flow of money for the budget. I provided budget leaders with $270 million worth of options to free up more dollars from “off the top” dedicated funding projects for general revenue appropriations. The final budget agreement only contained $30 million worth of changes to create more budget flexibility – a whopping 0.3 percent of total state revenue collections!

Even though state tax payers have already committed over $80 million to the financial albatross that is the Native American Cultural Center, we committed tax payers to another $35 million. Although some legislative leaders believe this government boondoggle will eventually create positive economic activity, my analysis indicates that the project will never provide net economic benefits to the taxpayers.

I also found frustrating several new business regulations, created by Republicans no less, which will create more paperwork and headaches for our business and medical professionals. The most significant example of this is the new requirement that doctors must now check a database before prescribing prescription drugs to patients. I seriously doubt a government database will prove to be accurate nor will this legislation significantly alter or slow down the awful problem of meth labs.

[pullquote]”Finally, the most ugly result of this year’s session will become apparent next year when the budget deficit will probably range from a shortfall of $400 million to $600 million.”[/pullquote]The Ugly – More than 20 government agencies received funding reductions of 5 to 7 percent. These included a 3.5 percent reduction for higher education. If our most important goal is to produce college- and career-ready graduates, then reducing overall education funding while increasing funding for health care, mental health, and prisons just seems backwards to me. Furthermore, when analyzing K-12 education since 2009, spending as a percent of total state revenue has decreased from 32 percent to 28 percent. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma House of Representatives made permanent a previous one-time increase of $1 million into their base budget and the Oklahoma Senate kept its funding the same as the previous year. We sure do not lead by example!

Finally, the most ugly result of this year’s session will become apparent next year when the budget deficit will probably range from a shortfall of $400 million to $600 million. In spite of the talk you hear of “tough choices” we really avoided the truly necessary reform strategies by using $473 million of one-time cash sources to fill this year’s deficit.

There you have it folks. Stay tuned for the 2016 Legislative Session. Thanks so much for the opportunity to serve you and work for the great people of Senate District 25.

Rep. Ben Loring: Putting our money where our mouth is

Ben LoringBen-Loringx175 (D-Miami) is a freshman member of the House of Representatives representing HD 7. A longer version of this post originally ran in the Miami News-Record.

The budget for the State of Oklahoma is the single most important transaction that the Legislature deals with each year — by far. It has the farthest reaching impact on the lives of all Oklahomans. It is also the hardest to get your head around — also, by far. This year’s general appropriations budget (HB 2242) was dictated entirely, from start to finish, by the majority party and is now in the books.

The budget is $7.14 billion, which is $73.2 million less than last year. But, we had $611 million dollars less than last year to allocate. As the State Constitution requires a balanced budget, we resorted to smoke and mirrors, gimmicks, stealing money from different agencies, and cutting funding to programs in general. There was plenty there for everyone to be upset about. So here is a list of things that I’m most upset about, roughly in order of how upset they make me:

  • The legislature managed to give itself a million dollar increase to its expense account, while the Senate has a $6 million surplus in its revolving fund, none of which was taken,
  • No pay increase for teachers, and because of increased enrollment and costs, the per-pupil investment in common education is once again decreasing. That means fewer teachers and increased classroom sizes. We are in a crisis and it is only getting worse.
  • No meaningful attempt to reign in the tax credits, incentives and rebates we give to corporations each year to the tune of almost $700 million.
  • The State Auditor and Inspector, whose job is to prevent and find corruption and fraud at all levels of government and whose office is seriously underfunded and understaffed to begin with, took a 7.25 percent cut and we stole $500,000 from his revolving fund which he was saving up to modernize office operations.
  • We gave the Health Care Authority a $18 million increase but still left them with a budget hole that will require $110 million in cuts to such things as eyeglasses for children, nursing homes and hospitals.
  • We cut the Department of Veterans Affairs by over $1 million and took $1.7 million from their revolving fund. Thank you for your service to our country.
  • We cut higher education by $24 million, which means our colleges and universities will have some devastating cuts and student tuition across the state will increase again; and we cut Career and Technology Education by almost $5 million,
  • We took $71 million from county roads and bridges (this was the same week that there was tens of millions of dollars of flood damage to county roads and bridges throughout the state) and we capped the amount of money can go to county roads and bridges in the future.
  • Tourism, which is very important for us in Northeast Oklahoma, was cut a little over $1 million and we took $7.5 million from tourism revolving funds,
  • We took $10 million from the Supreme Court Information (computer system) revolving fund which puts our electronic records system at risk. This system is used by lawyers, judges and the general public millions of times daily and is considered the model in the country.
  • The minority party once again tried unsuccessfully to delay the tax cut for the wealthiest Oklahomans. I hope you will enjoy spending the $31 savings you will get this coming year, which is what the average Oklahoma family will receive.

I could go on with listing several other outrageous aspects of this budget, but there isn’t time nor space to cover them all. More importantly, we have already created a deeper hole for next year’s budget (FY16-17) than the hole we started with this year.

The budget truly tells where our priorities are; it is “putting the money where the mouth is.” The majority party balanced this budget for the benefit of large corporations and the wealthiest Oklahomans on the backs of the sick, the elderly, our veterans, middle class families and our children. In short, we are pricing the vast majority of Oklahoma citizens out of the American dream.

It was an honor to represent the citizens of House District 7 this session.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily the opinions of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

Learn More // Do More


The opinions stated in guest articles are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

One thought on “Two insider takes on the 2015 legislative session

  1. It is truly mind boggling to try to understand the workings of the minds of the majority in the legislature who vote as they do to pass legislation that benefits their own legislative operations; that takes money away from really fundamental services that impact children (health,education,and food);who talk about how important a more highly educated population is important to the growth of the state, but cut higher education as they did; continue to cut taxes when they know (at least I think they know)the magnitude of the deficit in income for the state amounting to over $600M this year all of which will generate a grand total benefit of about $31.00 person for the year and unbelievably create an even greater problem next year; then take money in reserve funds that responsible leaders/boards of agencies which utilize such funds to carry the entity over until fall allocations can be made or save enough to update equipment (for which many are criticized for not implementing more efficient procedures or to provide greater security against “computer hacking of records); the list of just unbelievable actions “against” the majority of hard working, responsible families/citizens or the favoritism displayed by providing tax breaks for selected business giants and the wealthiest among our population, just keeps growing. Do the members who vote in such a manner have their head in a place other than on top of their shoulders? or brain that becomes dysfunctional during Feb – May?? How is it that the citizens of this state continue to accept Oklahoma as being either at or near the top of most lists the indicate we do one of the poorest jobs in the nation or at the bottom of many lists which reflect the level or quality of services that speak to the basic needs of our most vulnerable elements of the population. Do the individuals who vote this way really believe, I mean really believe, that people out of work choose to live that way? Perhaps more of such voters ought to interact on a more personal level with the folks that they think are “milking” the system or who they claim are too “lazy” to get a job. Perhaps it would help if those who vote this way to try to live for a month on the amount individuals on welfare or who draw food stamps or unemployment benefits or who have to work for “minimum” wages!!!!!!! I remain absolutely astounded about the lack of any “moral or ethical” responsibility of those who vote this way.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.