Legislators address issues at Ponca Politics

Ponca City Now - April 25, 2016 10:21 am

By Beverly Bryant/News Director

The Ponca Politics Forum with Senator Eddie Fields, Rep. Steve Vaughan and Rep. John Pfeiffer was Friday at City Hall with 65 residents attending.

The three started with opening statements whcih touched on the Legislative deadline week, with more than 150 bills signed, committee work and candidate filings.

Fields discussed the state’s $1.3 billion budget hole, placing the blame with Gov. Mary Fallin’s "irresponsible spending."

In Vaughan’s opening statement, he said he and Rep. Pfeiffer both are running unopposed to remain in their seats this year. He also expressed his frustration that the House debated a feral hog bill for an hour and a half the night before the forum.

He illustrated the budget problem by showing seven $1 bills. He said education gets three and a half, health care gets 35 percent, roads, bridges and public safety get 10 percent.

"The rest is divided up to go to 74 agencies," he said.

He said legislators will have a $6 billion to $7 billion budget based on oil prices of $38 a barrel.

"We give the state all that comes in," he said. "It has to come out of the pocket of the people. That’s where I make my stand."

Rep. Pfeiffer said the budget base has been reset and agencies will be facing cuts of 3 percent to 4 percent, on top of 7 percent cuts to last year’s budget, before the base was reset.

"I spend a lot of time reading about finances of municipalities in California," he said. "The San Jose mayor uses the term ‘service level insolvency.’ That’s when there is not enough money to do anything.

"There is waste in government, but we have to redefine the core function of government and fund those agencies so they can do their work. We are going to see different options," he said.

He said there could be revenue raising measures on an already-full general election ballot, and legislators may make a "buffet budget," picking and choosing some options.

The three answered questions from the audience, including which bills they were most proud of. Fields mentioned the criminal justice bills; Vaughan named the autism insurance bill, and Pfeiffer talked about the bill for recharging underground aquifers to preserve water for rural Oklahoma.

Another question asked about the impact of removing Article 2, Section 5 from the State Constitution. Pfeiffer said the short answer was it would have no impact, because the Oklahoma Supreme Court had ruled vouchers could be used for private schools.

Vaughan said it was a very important move, so he could vote to allow a statue of the Ten Commandments to be placed on the Capitol lawn.

Fields said Congress had placed what is called the Blaine amendment in years ago to keep public money out of private schools. He said the title is off the bill.

"Is that the route we want to go? It would cost $600,000 to go to a second page on the ballot," Fields said. "Do we want to be a state that spends public money on private education?"

The three lawmakers also answered a question about windmill credits.

Fields said legislators addressed the tax credits for wind farms last year, and unused tax credits have to be refunded to the state rather than being sold.

He said the last wind farm cost $20 million to build and the owner received $24 million in tax credits.

"We have to look to see if they created economic development here, or if dollars left the state," he said.

Vaughan said wind farms are all over Kay County and said ad valorum taxes would be huge once the abatement ends Jan. 1. He said that money from wind farms would then free up state money earmarked for education for other programs.

"In tough times, we have to look at all things," Pfeiffer said. "We should have seen a drop in oil prices coming. Our economy has diversity. One in six jobs in the oil industry was lost during the bust of the 1980s. Now we have lost one in 15 jobs.

"Last year, a collective of wind companies asked how they could help, and we phased out the ad valorum impact," he said. "Grant County schools have moeny from wind farms and they have come off state funding."

On the issue of a 1 cent sales tax dedicated to education, Vaughan said he would support it.

"It will go to a vote of the people," he said. "I am concerned about how much gets there."

Pfeiffer said State Question 779 has some areas he calls "extremely concerning."

"The impact on municipalities is a concern. They are dependent on sales tax," he said. "This would make Oklahoma one of states with the highest state sales tax in the country."

He said there are "better ways to do this than a statewide regressive tax.

Fields said he would vote against the proposed tax.

"This is another apportionment over which there is no control in the Legislature," he said. "It goes off the top and compounds the problem we already have."

The three also talked about long-term debt for the state.

"We cannot go in to borrow money to get out of this," Vaughan said. "I put up collateral for my loans. I am against bonds to get us out of debt, but we will do bonds for projects."

Pfeiffer said the proposal for bonds comes out of the governor’s second budget draft.

"Long-term debt to continue to operate is a disaster," Pfeiffer said. "We have to raise income or cut services."

Fields said his stand was not to do any bonding at all. He said he might consider bonds for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Another question was on the Retail Fairness Act, which would cause online merchants to collect the same sales tax from Oklahoma residents that brick-and-mortar stores collect.

Pfeiffer said he voted for the act, to enforce Oklahoma’s use tax.

"Only 4 percent of Oklahomans pay it," he said. "This act will give local businesses a level playing field."

Fields also voted for the act for the same reasons.

Vaughan, however, voted against it.

All three also said they would be in favor of state election laws to make county positions such as sheriff nonpartisan positions.

Pfeiffer, who were co-authors of State Question 777, the Right to Farm bill, said it is extremely important for it to pass.

"It will put into the Constitution the right to farm and no future laws could be passed regulating farming," Pfeiffer said. "This was written mainly because of things that have happened in California."

He said negative campaigns have stated that this would benefit large corporate farms or foreign ownership.

"Nintey percent of Oklahoma farms are family owned," he said. "Many operate as LLCs for tax purposes."

Fields said this is a big issue between urban and rural areas.

"It is about food safety, which other countries don’t have," he said.

The forum will be shown on cable channel 22 at 10:30 a.m., 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. You can also go to www.poncacityok.gov to view the forum.


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