Gov. Mary Fallin hopes the honeymoon period she enjoyed with lawmakers last year continues as she seeks to find ways to reduce the state's personal income tax rate and build on efforts to improve the state's business climate.
It helps that the Republican governor will be dealing again with a GOP-controlled Legislature and that both legislative leaders share her same general philosophy. Many of the proposals she made in February, during her first State of the State address, were embraced and passed before lawmakers ended their work in May.
Successes for Fallin, the state's first female governor, included getting changes in the civil justice system, overhauling the workers' compensation system and eliminating the “trial de novo” system that made it hard to fire underperforming teachers.
The governor, completing her first year in office, wants to gradually reduce the personal income tax until it is eliminated. The state's economy appears to be getting stronger, but a flat state budget is shaping up for the upcoming fiscal year. Enough new money is expected to come in to make up for using about $500 million of one-time funds to put together this year's legislative-appropriated $6.4 billion budget.
“I'm going to continue to focus on strengthening our economy and our environment — getting Oklahomans back to work that are unemployed, helping our businesses continue to grow, and job creation,” Fallin said.
Fallin, 57, said she expects a healthy debate during this year's legislative session, which begins Feb. 6, on the state's tax system and structure.
Fallin, who has been involved in state government since 1990 when she was elected as a state representative and then served three terms as lieutenant governor, said she wants to make sure core governmental services — transportation, public safety, health and human services and education — are properly funded.
Another challenge for Fallin, who served four years in Congress before being elected governor in 2010, is developing her plan to nearly eliminate the state highway system's more than 700 structurally deficient bridges by 2019. She will be asking legislators to raise the state's annual contribution to a highway fund by $15 million each year and to increase the total funding cap to $550 million.
Fallin said she expects Republicans, who fared well in Oklahoma in 2010 and who for the first time in state history hold every statewide office, should fare well this election year.
“As long as we continue to deliver on what we have said our priorities are ... the people of Oklahoma will reward them with re-election,” she said.
Democratic President Barack Obama failed to win any of the state's 77 counties in 2008, but nationally Fallin said she expects a tight race.
“There's a good chance that a Republican, if they get their message out and work hard, can have the opportunity to win back the president's office,” she said.