Session begins on Monday, and I’m looking forward to it. We will convene for session in the Senate Chamber before joining our House colleagues to listen to Gov. Stitt’s State of the State Address. This is his opportunity to share his vision for the state and how he’d like to see state revenues spent in the FY’22 budget. The Legislature, however, is the body constitutionally responsible for creating the state budget, but the governor’s ideas are always taken into consideration as we move through budget negotiations.
If you’re interested, you can watch his address, which will begin around noon. It will be streamed on the House website at www.okhouse.gov as well as OETA’s and other Oklahoma City news stations. Prior to and immediately following his address, you can watch our work on the Senate floor from the Senate website at www.oksenate.gov.
January has been an extremely busy month as we’ve been preparing for session. Last week was the bill filing deadline, and I’ve filed six bills this session as I want to really be able to focus on my committee assignments. As chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and vice chair of the Education Committee, it’s important that I’m able to focus on the many bills that will flow through these two committees, as well as the education budget, which accounts for over half of the total state budget.
Our Oversight Committee for the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) also met earlier this month. Again, the purpose of LOFT is to help the Legislature in making informed, data-driven decisions to improve accountability and efficiency in the use of taxpayer dollars. Their staff will conduct program evaluations, independent comprehensive performance audits and special reviews to help us make efficient, fiscally responsible budgetary decisions for our state agencies.
LOFT is working on numerous projects, including examining how the state has used the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) funding and how the Board of Equalization determines revenues for the state budget.
Under the CARES Act, Oklahoma received over $2 billion for state agency programs and the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), which provides federal financial support to state, local and tribal governments to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Oklahoma’s portion of the CRF was just over $1.5 billion to support COVID-19-related government expenses. It’s imperative that the Legislature ensures these government funds have been spent efficiently and for the greatest benefit of Oklahomans.
Another issue is looking at how the Board of Equalization calculates what revenue the Legislature will have to spend each fiscal year. There has been debate as to whether their current means of calculation is the most accurate and efficient way to help the Legislature in crafting the state budget.
We’ve also asked LOFT to look at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC), which is responsible for maintaining and distributing Oklahoma’s federal and state unemployment benefits. We specifically want to know about agency structure, the software and technology used, and any other issues that may be impacting the distribution of unemployment benefits, particularly as the pandemic continues.
We’re still early in the game with LOFT, but I think the high level of research and analysis they can do will be greatly beneficial to the Legislature and, ultimately, the public. Our legislative staffs simply don’t have the time or resources to do this level of work.
Finally, we have wrapped up our town hall redistricting meetings around the state. Hopefully, you were able to watch one of these on the House or Senate websites. The meetings are available to view online. I want to thank everyone who has participated in the process or submitted ideas or questions about this important process. If you’d like to submit comments, you can do so at email@example.com. I will keep you informed as the Legislature moves through the redistricting process this session.