From the Desk of Sen. Bill Coleman
Ponca City Now - January 8, 2019 3:05 pm
I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year. My family had a great time, but the break went by too fast.
This month is going to be busy as we begin preparing for the legislative session. We had our constitutionally required Organizational Day on Tuesday. This is when we officially voted on leadership positions, including the new Pro Tempore, and approved the rules for the First and Second Sessions of the 57th Legislature, as well as certified results of the 2018 Senate races. We then went and joined our colleagues in the House to certify the results of the 2018 congressional election returns.
Everyone is anxious to get to work. Staff has been working nonstop since early December researching and drafting the nearly 1,800 requested Senate bills. They have until Thursday, Jan. 17 to finish those and get them filed for session. Because of duplication or other reasons, not all of those bills will end up getting filed, but we’re all looking forward to seeing what issues we’ll be tackling this year.
So far, I’ve filed two bills, but will be filing more before the deadline. Being my first year and given our state’s financial issues the past decade, our main focus will be the budget and increasing revenue and holding agencies more accountable for their spending. I also think it’s important as freshmen legislators that we sit back and learn the ropes, so to speak, before jumping head first into the process. We need to understand what issues have already been tackled and what actions have been taken regarding the state budget in the past – what worked and what didn’t. We don’t have time to reinvent the wheel or duplicate efforts that failed in the past. We must be as efficient as possible, given we only have four months to complete our work.
One of the bills I’ve filed is SB 128, which authorizes state agencies to pay employees on an “on-call” basis. Only certain employees would be subject to this. Pay and compensation for classified employees would be equivalent to one hour of their time on the weekday and two hours of their time on the weekend for a single day on-call, in addition to the time spent working on these days. Agencies would be prohibited from adjusting employee hours for these hours of on-call duty. This is an effort to ensure that state employees are fairly compensated for their hard work.
Last month, the State Board of Equalization released its preliminary FY 2020 budget estimates. Gov. Stitt will use these to craft his executive budget that he’ll present to the Legislature in his first State of the State on Monday, Feb. 4. The estimate shows that the legislature should have around $612.4 million, or 8 percent more in available funds than last year. This will bring the total amount available for appropriation to $8.3 billion, which would be the highest budget in state history.
This is the first time in six years that the estimate has shown growth revenue. However, everyone must understand that in the past decade all agency budgets were cut – some more than 40 percent. For this reason, the Legislature has many obligations that must be fulfilled before we can begin thinking about increasing funding to any particular agencies.
Unlike the federal government, Oklahoma’s Legislature is constitutionally-required to pass an annual balanced budget, meaning we can’t spend a penny more than is certified by the Board of Equalization. When there are revenue shortfalls, the Legislature is forced to cut budgets because we cannot spend more than is coming in.
We’ll be watching energy prices closely as these have the greatest impact on state revenue. Hopefully, they increase or remain stable to ensure we, in fact, will have this additional funding available. The Board of Equalization will meet again in mid-February to provide the Legislature with the actual revenue available for appropriation.
You can contact me at the state Capitol by calling (405) 521-5581 or by email at [email protected]