He leads the smallest consortium of Democrats in the history of the Oklahoma Senate, but Minority Leader Sean Burrage said he expects most of his policy plans for the coming session align with that of the opposing party.
Burrage, D-Claremore, said he expects most Democratic goals — to support growth, education and the core services of government — match that of Republican leadership in the Senate.
However, he said he will reserve judgment on the GOP plans until he can see how those goals are attained and at what cost.
“This isn’t Washington, D.C.; there’s not a lot of bitter partisanship in this building,” Burrage said.
Democratic representation is down from 16 last year to 12 this year. Burrage said his goals for the session are to continue boosting economic growth in the state.
But reducing the personal income tax without neutralizing the revenue loss with tax credit reform or additional offsets would be a hard sell, he said. He also called on Republican leadership to restore funding to public schools and give pay raises to state employees.
“We are in no position to decrease our revenues when we’re not properly funding education, when we’re not giving our state employees raises and when we have a need for a bond issue to fix our state Capitol and make other capital improvements,” Burrage said.
He also said Democrats in the Senate have not given up the fight to expand Medicaid.
Gov. Fallin rejected Medicaid expansion and the development of a state health care exchange last year, both of which are key parts of the federal health care law passed by President Barack Obama.
Burrage said it was a political decision that could leave 180,000 Oklahomans without health insurance and threaten rural hospitals across the state. He said he does not expect a bill he filed to get a hearing in the Senate.
A sound health care policy is just as important to attracting workers to Oklahoma as lower taxes, he said.
“They want to find a state that is a good place to live, quality education, quality health care and, quite frankly, for the corporations who want to employ Oklahomans they want a healthy workforce, and that means having access to health care,” he said.
Dissension in the GOP?
If there is resistance to Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman’s agenda for the coming session, it will most likely come from within.
Bingman, R-Sapulpa, was praised by Democrats and Republicans alike for his leadership and consensus-building skills, but it was only a year ago that another top GOP lawmaker — former House Speaker Kris Steele — was toppled by fringe elements from fiscal conservatives from his own party.
Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, said right now that’s unlikely this session in the Senate.
If there is a split between Bingman and fringe elements of the Senate, it’s over a program to repair the state Capitol, Shortey said.
Shortey said he would rather pay for repairs a little at a time rather than pass a bond issue and do the repairs all at once.
“To be quite honest with you, I would rather the Senate focus on refinancing the $750 million in bond issues we have right now to a lower rate,” he said. “I think we could probably save two or three percent on $750 million just by reinvesting what we already have in debt. We need to have that discussion, and we’re not having that discussion.”