Working to find compromise
Ponca City Now - May 3, 2019 12:39 pm
By Sen. Bill Coleman
Session is winding down. Once we have a budget agreement, our work will pretty much be done. Negotiations are ongoing and change every day. However, we’re very close to reaching an agreement.
Again, common education funding is what’s holding us up. The House and Senate can agree on the overall amount, just not how the funds are to be used.
The Senate wants to make a significant investment into the funding formula. This is what educators are asking for – more money in the classroom. The House and Governor, however, want to boost the minimum salary schedule by $1,200 – teachers have told us that they would rather have money for their classrooms than another raise.
Hopefully, this week all the pieces will fall into place and I’ll have more information for you. But do know that a substantial investment of new funding will be made to the Common Education budget.
Speaking of education, Oklahoma got some terrific news this past week. Last year, the Legislature made some tough decisions in order to generate the revenue to provide the largest teacher pay raise in Oklahoma history. Each year, the National Education Association ranks states on teacher pay. The most recent rankings were announced last week, and Oklahoma jumped from No. 49 to No. 34 in average teacher pay. Oklahoma’s average teacher salary is now $52,412, a 13.2 percent increase.
This is extremely exciting news! However, the NEA simply puts the salaries in numerical order. They don’t consider Cost of Living or any other factors when doing the rankings. As you know, Oklahoma has one of the lowest Costs of Living in the country. So when that is factored into the equation, Oklahoma actually ranks 11th in the nation for teacher salaries and No. 1 in the region.
More good economic news was also released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Their data shows that Oklahoma’s real GDP rate of increase ranked third in the nation during the last quarter of 2018, behind Texas and Wyoming. Real GDP by state is the market value of goods and services produced by the labor and property within each state. Oklahoma’s increased 5.5 percent.
Another sign of our strong economy is that unemployment has dropped in 74 of the 77 counties since March 2018. Overall, Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is holding steady at 3.3 percent.
Revenues also continue to increase. We’ll have those numbers from the Treasurer’s office next week.
Last week, I discussed some of the criminal justice reform measures working their way through the process. Together, those bills will significantly lower Oklahoma’s incarceration rates and prison population. The bills had to go back to the House for final approval as the Senate had amended them. Unfortunately, this week, the House rejected all of the amendments so the bills will now be assigned to a joint conference committee to work out some compromise language.
On Wednesday, Gov. Stitt also released his proposals for compromise criminal justice measures. While his ideas are good, they alone won’t reduce the state’s incarceration rate, which is costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
Reforming the state’s criminal justice system is one of the Senate’s top priorities. This along with education funding is what’s slowing down budget negotiations.
On Thursday, I was honored to carry the executive nomination of Johnny O’Hare to the Oklahoma State Credit Union Board. He is the president and CEO of Cherokee Strip Credit Union in Ponca City.
That same day, I also had the privilege of presenting to the full Senate the executive nomination of Darin Fields of Ponca City to the Board of Trustees for the University Center in Ponca City. He is the Manager of the Ponca City Refinery for Phillips 66.
You can contact me at the state Capitol by calling (405) 521-5581 or by email at [email protected]