There’s so much happening at your state Capitol. With the new fiscal year came a new budget, new laws and the beginning of work on interim studies.
State agencies are having budget meetings to decide how best to utilize their new funding. Again, we approved the largest budget in state history, $8.1 billion. It made significant investments in our classrooms and health care, provided a teacher and state employee pay raise for the second year in a row, and also invested in criminal justice reforms all while saving $200 million.
Of the 64 agencies receiving state appropriations, 48 received a funding increase of up to 24% while the remaining 16 agencies received over a 25% funding increase.
The Oklahoma Checkbook website (checkbook.ok.gov) is now live so you can see how your tax dollars are being spent. The interactive site provides up-to-date financial data to improve transparency and accountability. It’s already helped uncover some miscalculations and other errors concerning state agency funding. If you find any mistakes or have suggestions of have to spend more efficiently in certain areas, please let us know. This is your money.
Another way the state is working to improve financial transparency and accountability is through the creation of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT). This office will provide the public and legislature with independent, objective financial research and data on agency spending as well as program performance evaluations to ensure efficient use of tax dollars. Currently, agency directors provide the legislature with a budgetary overview.
I’ve been appointed to be on the 14-member legislative oversight committee. Our first meeting will be July 30 at 3:30pm in Room 419C at the Capitol. This is a public meeting that will be broadcast on the Senate website (www.oksenate.gov). We’ll begin working on finding an executive director and other necessary staff.
Another important legislative meeting that will be happening this interim is the Medicaid Legislative Working Group. We had a similar group last year that met for several months to study medical marijuana. Because of the group, numerous bills were filed and eventually signed into law to allow the use of medical marijuana in Oklahoma.
Unlike interim studies that are overseen by their respective committees, working group members are appointed by the House Speaker and Senate Pro Tem. These are bipartisan, bicameral groups that bring in experts from around the country to learn about every possible aspect of an issue. As for Medicaid, members will be looking at how many Oklahomans are enrolled in the government assistance program, how much enrollment would increase, the pros and cons of expansion in other states as well as the long- and short-term costs of expanding the program. The legislature is not simply responsible for programs and the citizens they impact today but how it will affect the state financially 20 years from now as well as our citizens.
The Senate will also be holding 72 interim studies this fall. These are requested by individual members in order to give legislators a more in-depth look at particular issues by calling in industry experts, the business community, state agencies, officials from other states that have passed policies on the same issues as well as private citizens who have been impacted by the particular issues. These meetings can be one day or several weeks depending on how much research needs to be gathered. They are assigned to the committee with jurisdiction over the issue. Committee chairs are responsible for scheduling the meetings and they must be completed by Nov. 8 to allow members time to request legislation before the December deadline. A schedule will be posted on our website. Again, these are public meetings that can be attended in person or viewed on our website.
In closing, I want to remind everyone about the Oklahoma Sales Tax Holiday coming up Aug. 2-4. During this special event, you can receive free sales tax on up to $100 of clothing and shoes just in time for Back-to-School shopping. For more information, visit the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s website or call them at (800) 522-8165.
I welcome and appreciate any comments or questions you might have for me. At the State Senate, I can be reached by writing to Senator Kim David, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 421, Oklahoma City, OK 73105, emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (405) 521-5590 and speaking to my assistant Gayla Guinn.