MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

February 1, 2013

State House Republicans unveil 2013 legislative agenda

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – New House Speaker T.W. Shannon said Thursday there is little support in the Republican-controlled House for a bond issue to repair state buildings and that he intends to push for the creation of a multiyear plan for replacing and upgrading state-owned assets.

House Republicans, who enjoy a 72-29 majority, outlined some of the group’s top priorities for the upcoming legislative session that begins on Monday.

While short on specifics, GOP leaders said changes to the state’s pension and workers’ compensation systems, tax cuts and increased funding for education will be among their goals.

Rep. Scott Martin, the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he plans to sponsor a bill calling for a one-quarter of 1 percent cut to the state’s top income tax rate, which is currently 5.25 percent.

“That’s just one of many,” said Martin, R-Norman. “We’ll certainly have this dialogue throughout this session, not only with my colleagues behind me but also with our friends over in the Senate and also the governor.”

Gov. Mary Fallin’s plan for an overhaul of the state’s tax code and a steep reduction of the top rate failed to pass the Legislature last year, but she has promised to outline details of a more modest proposal in her State of the State address to lawmakers on Monday.

Another one of Fallin’s priorities this year – repairs to the state’s nearly 100-year-old Capitol building – also is a top issue for House Republicans. But Shannon suggested there is little enthusiasm to approve a bond issue to pay for the work, which officials estimate to be around $160 million.

“This year I don’t believe there’s the will at this point to do bonds, but there certainly may be legislation to address that and we’ll know for sure,” Shannon said.

Lawmakers in recent years also have considered bond issues for a new state medical examiner’s office, a veterans administration building, improvements to buildings in the Capitol complex, the completion of an American Indian museum in Oklahoma City and the creation of a pop culture museum in Tulsa.

Instead, Shannon said he will push legislation to develop a multiyear plan that prioritizes a list of capital improvement projects. It will be similar to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year plan for repairing and replacing state bridges and highways.

He said a committee to develop the list would include appointees from the governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tem and would eliminate political influence and the pitting of one project against another.

“What we’ve done in the past with infrastructure in Oklahoma is what we did with bridges for 20 years – neglect, neglect, neglect; decay, decay, decay. And then we try to run a bond,” Shannon said. “What we’re going to be proposing in my legislation is a pay-as-you-go plan that comes up with the funding structure that prevents us from having to do bonds.”

House Democrats have indicated their willingness to support a pay-as-you-go approach to funding infrastructure, but remain united in opposition to bond issues, especially while Republicans are pushing for a reduction in the state’s income tax.

“Our caucus will continue to oppose any cuts to the state income tax,” House Democratic leader Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, said in a statement. “The House Democratic Caucus believes that a strong and vibrant Oklahoma can only grow its economy if we support a sound, fiscally responsible budget that doesn’t slash revenues while pushing the state further into debt.”

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