MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 28, 2014

Council behind regional agenda

OneVoice want list lays out desired legislation

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Recruiting Muskogee city councilors in support of a legislative agenda developed through a regional collaboration proved easier this year than last.

The agenda was developed by a coalition of area cities, business groups and school districts assembled by the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce. Dubbed OneVoice, the agenda is designed to promote a regional approach to economic development and growth.

The 2014 OneVoice agenda previously had won support from the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce. Muskogee City-County Port Authority members also endorsed the plan, which includes provisions that would benefit the inland navigation system that dissects parts of northeastern Oklahoma.

The OneVoice agenda includes both state and federal legislative issues ranging from a need for increased education funding, health care reforms and infrastructure improvements. The agenda also advocates for tax fairness between community and virtual retailers and opposes federal regulations for hydraulic fracturing, wastewater disposal and horizontal drilling.

A year ago, when city councilors were first asked to endorse the legislative initiative, councilors expressed concerns about competing interests. There were some questions Monday along those lines, but selling the plan proved much easier.

Brien Thorstenberg, who left as the director of the port authority’s business development arm to take a job as the vice president of economic development for the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said Muskogee is a “valid regional partner” that can benefit from the OneVoice legislative agenda.

“Regional efforts, whether it’s economic development or legislation, they all work together like a hand in the glove,” Thorstenberg said.

He said regional collaboration is the best way to realize economic growth.

Thorstenberg said a number of the OneVoice agenda would benefit Muskogee and local businesses. He singled out the state’s quick action closing fund created in 2011 and Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology fund designed to increase economic opportunities.

Other proposals from which Muskogee might benefit includes requests to increase educational funding at all levels to compensate for higher enrollments and make teaching salaries more competitive. It also seeks funding to provide training needs for businesses and industries.

To advance its health care initiatives, the coalition supports the “preservation and expansion of Insure Oklahoma to extend ... coverage to uninsured residents.” The coalition also seeks funding for programs needed to address a shortage of physicians within the state.

Provisions that address infrastructural needs include economic opportunities flowing from the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. The coalition seeks funding needed to address maintenance backlogs and partnerships that would spur port expansion plans along the inland waterway.

The coalition’s 2014 agenda addresses more issues that appear to be unique to Tulsa than proposals put forward a year ago. Muskogee’s elected officials expressed some reluctance before they signed on to the 2013 OneVoice agenda.

Projects appearing to primarily benefit Tulsa include annual appropriations to the Oklahoma State University Medical Center and funding for Tulsa County highway and bridge projects. It also seeks support for the development of passenger rail service between Tulsa and Oklahoma City and funding for a Tulsa Air National Guard fuel storage facility.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.