By Governor Mary Fallin
Earlier this week, I delivered my first State of the State address as the 2011 legislative session convened. I also delivered to the Legislature a responsible executive budget that strikes a balance between achieving savings through streamlining government services and pursuing necessary budget cuts.
All state agencies must make shared sacrifices this year – there’s no way around it. Our government cannot spend money it does not have. But while every agency will be cut, my budget proposes lesser cuts to priorities like health and human services, education and public safety in order to preserve vital services for all Oklahomans.
Cutting government spending this year is just a start. I am also proposing a long-term plan, a path to prosperity, for the state of Oklahoma. It includes important job-creating reforms to our legal system, government spending, education and health care.
In the following weeks and months ahead, I will work with the Legislature to pursue pro-growth policies like workers’ compensation reform and lawsuit reform. Tackling these two issues will lessen the burden on businesses in Oklahoma while attracting more investment in our state. Those efforts, combined with a reexamination of our tax code and our systems of rules and regulations, will ultimately help to bring more and better jobs to the state of Oklahoma.
My budget also lays out a series of reforms that allows our state government to utilize new technology to save money while increasing efficiency. For instance, if we move state government from paper to electronic billing services, we’ll save around $3 million annually.
I have also named education reform a priority, so our children are better equipped to compete in the 21st century global economy. Nothing is more important to Oklahoma’s long-term prosperity than making sure our children are well educated. That will require cutting down on administrative overhead to get more money into classrooms. It will mean holding teachers and administrators accountable and rewarding them for high performance. And it will involve partnering with the private sector to support innovation in our public school system. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I am committed to raising the bar on education in Oklahoma, just as I know the new state schools superintendent, secretary of education and the Legislature are.
Finally, our state cannot be successful if we remain in poor health. Sadly, Oklahoma ranks near the bottom in most major measures of health, from obesity to heart disease and diabetes. The cost in lives and in dollars, along with the loss of worker productivity, is too great for the state to stay our current course.
That’s why I’m working with legislators to pursue local, state-based solutions – not one-size-fits-all federal interventions like Obamacare – that lower the cost of health insurance by increasing choice and market-based competition while lowering legal expenses. We’ll also encourage schools, businesses and local neighborhoods to voluntarily offer health living incentives that will put us on a path toward greater health and prosperity.
We face some tough challenges ahead of us, but we have emerged before from tough times in the past and become a stronger and more resilient state. I am optimistic that if we all work together – my administration, lawmakers, businesses and families – we can emerge from this recession as a stronger, healthier and more prosperous Oklahoma.