MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 9, 2011

A Senate review

By Sen. Earl Garrison

— Seems like we just adjourned the 2010 session, but the 2011 legislative session is underway.  We began the day in our various committees before convening in the Senate chambers to take care of some business.  We then convened for a joint session in the House Chambers to hear Governor Fallin’s first State of the State address. 

Overall, I thought the Governor’s speech was upbeat and positive.  However, I thought she was a little vague on providing details as to how we are going to overcome the $600 million deficit we more than likely will be facing.  I’m anxious to get to work and see how we’re going to address our budget problem. 

            We have yet another tough session in front of us and we’re going to have to be tough when making decisions as to where cuts need to be made.  Unfortunately, while the economy is improving, it’s not picking up fast enough to help us this session.  We won’t have the official budget numbers until the State Equalization Board meets in mid-February.  The Legislature will then use that information to begin crafting the new budget. 

            In December, the State Equalization Board approved the Tax Commission’s revenue estimate which was that the Legislature will have $6.1 billion to appropriate for the next fiscal year.  Last session, we passed a $6.7 billion budget, so those estimates are $600 million less than the current budget. 

            The main reason for the drastic difference is that last year the Legislature was able to use federal stimulus money, Rainy Day funds and money from increased fees.  This session, we won’t have any stimulus money or state savings so some tough decisions are going to have to be made in order to balance the budget.  Unfortunately, this may mean further cuts for state agencies.  But just like families all across the state who have had to cut back during these hard economic times, our government is going to have to continue to do so as well. 

             Members of the Appropriations Committee and subcommittees have been, and will continue for the next few weeks, meeting with the various agencies, commissions and other entities to discuss their budget needs for the coming fiscal year.  This is an important step towards drafting the state’s budget. 

            I have to say my colleagues and I are somewhat disappointed as many of the agencies that committees have met with so far have requested budget increases and some have even requested supplemental funding for the current fiscal year.  This makes our job so much harder when the agencies don’t come to us with solutions as to how they can cut back but rather always request more money that we simply don’t have.  Like Oklahoma families, our state agencies are going to have to continue to do less with more and tighten their belts until our state’s economy recovers.

            Besides working on the budget, we’ll also have around 2,100 Senate and House bills as well as 85 joint resolutions to consider.  Again, I filed seven measures this year and will be providing more information about those in the coming weeks along with the bills I’m going to co-author. 

            This year, I’ll be serving on the:

            Remember, you can find the Senate schedule, bills, and other legislative information on the Senate website at www.oksenate.gov.  The Senate also offers live streaming audio and video from the Senate Chamber, as well as from committee rooms 419-C and 511-A so if you’re interested you can listen or watch most of my committee meetings.  You can also follow the Oklahoma State Senate on Twitter at OKSENATEINFO.           

To contact me at the Capitol, pleasewrite to Senator Earl Garrison, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 514A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, or call (405) 521-5533.  You can also email me at garrison@oksenate.gov

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