Oklahoma Governor focuses on economy, education, healthcare and public safety

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Mary Fallin focused on the state’s economy during Monday’s State of the State address.

On Monday, she spoke about ‘performance informed budgeting,’ which would allow lawmakers to restructure the state’s budget and how Oklahoma’s taxpayer dollars are spent.

She says billions of dollars are diverted away from the General Revenue Fund to support government programs, pay for tax credits and incentives.

Last year, the state collected the most total revenue ever, bringing in $13.6 billion.

However, the General Revenue Fund continues to shrink.

Click here for the State of the State address.

Fallin also stressed that a skills gap exists between Oklahoma workers and the job force. She said that Oklahomans are not meeting education levels needed to sustain job growth.

In five years, she says only 23 percent of jobs will be available to those with a high school diploma.

“If we don’t address that skills gap, those jobs will go elsewhere. Just as importantly, there will be a lot of Oklahomans who do not have the educational level they need to begin good careers and command good salaries,” Fallin said.

A new program, “Oklahoma Works,” looks to create partnerships between businesses and educational centers.

Fallin also called to ramp up the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which is designed to intervene for low-risk, non-violent offenders. It would send those offenders to drug courts, veterans courts and mental health courts.

“It costs the state around $19,000 a year to house an inmate, but only $5,000 a year to send an addict through drug court and on to treatment,” she said. “The recidivism rate for offenders sent to drug court is just one-fourth of the rate for those sent to prison.”

“We’ve set the bar high in every area we can think of. We may not meet some of these goals. But for the first time in state history, we will truly hold ourselves accountable as a state government,” she said.

Below is the response from the Oklahoma Democratic Party: 

Oklahoma Democratic Party State of the State Response

OKLAHOMA CITY – Today Democratic leaders called on Governor Fallin to take a new direction and work with Democrats to focus on building a stronger middle class. We need to begin promoting economic mobility, providing access to affordable health care and increasing education funding for Oklahoma families. The Oklahoma Democratic Party’s response to the State of the State highlights several troubling economic indicators that show that Gov. Fallin’s policies are not working. Among those are the $300 million budget shortfall and a new report from the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy showing Oklahoma’s tax system ranking 16th worst for fairness.

Healthcare:

Oklahoma’s obesity and heart disease rates were mentioned in the State of the State address, but the one major option to provide better healthcare to hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans, accepting Medicaid Expansion dollars, was not. The truth is if Gov. Fallin accepted these funds it would provide $15.6 billion in economic growth over the next 10 years, create more than 13,000 jobs and save $692 million by insuring people who are now served at state cost by three state agencies.

Education:

She voiced a need for greater “educational attainment” but again no specifics on how to achieve that end. Under the Fallin Administration, Oklahoma leads the nation in cuts to education at -23.6%. How does she intend to restore that funding to meet the increased need in addition to dealing with the increase in student population? Every cut in state funding for higher education has been met with higher tuition rates, meaning fewer students can afford college or career tech. Students end up having higher debt loads when they do graduate. Plus, many students must work while attending school, which means they will most likely be unable to finish during a standard four-year term.

Veterans:

There was absolutely no mention of the problems that exist at the seven Veterans Centers across the state, and similar problems in the private-for-profit nursing homes in Oklahoma.

Infrastructure:

Governor Mary Fallin’s speech was long on admirable goals, but extremely short on details of how to achieve those goals. She started off saying she wants “safer roads and bridges,” but did not say where the money would come from to rebuild that infrastructure.

Mental Health:

Fallin is late to the game with regards to the needs of people with mental health issues. Oklahoma only spends $53.05 per capita to provide mental health services, falling far below the national average of $120.56. The recidivism rate for offenders going through the drug or mental health court system is only 25% versus the recidivism rate for offenders simply fulfilling their sentence in prison being nearly three times that rate.

Prison Reform: 

How is the governor going to deal with the current prison problem, with our prisons at about 116% capacity and a shortage of staff that has about eight prison staff for over every 600 prisoners? This is an extremely unsafe condition for the inmates and the staff. Additionally, the workers in our state’s prison system have not had a pay increase in over seven years, causing staffing levels to fall to about 60% of needs. Why would anyone want to work under these conditions? How could the governor defend huge salary increases for agency heads last year, when the workers at risk need support the most?

Economy:

The idea of the legislature only dealing with fiscal issues every two years is so old, it is new again. The Oklahoma legislature used to only meet every two years, but it was decided that to meet annually would be a better way to deal with issues in a more timely way. If the state cannot accurately predict a budget one year in advance, how can it do so for two years in advance? Can you imagine what kind of budget would have come from a legislature that budgeted with the price of oil at $110 a barrel, but has now dropped to less than half that amount? It would be disastrous. Raiding agency revolving funds is a short-term solution for long-term needs. The legislature did that last session and look at the results. A projected $300 million budget deficit that is probably, in reality, at least $400 million or more. This is just a “Band-Aid” approach for a long term shortage. “Democrats are ready to work with Gov. Fallin and Legislative Republicans when the focus is on building an economy that works for, not against, the middle class,” said Chair Wallace Collins. “But what we will not support is more of the same failed policies that rig the system and force workers and seniors to pay more just so those at the very top can get more breaks. It’s time for Republican leaders to abandon these failed policies that have left Oklahoma with deficits.”

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