Gov. Mary Fallin lashed out at the Legislature on Tuesday for failing to address key issues facing Oklahoma and singled out the House of Representatives for special criticism for rejecting a bond measure to fix the crumbling Capitol.
To emphasize her point, she announced that she was vetoing 15 House bills that she said were flawed, bad policy or not relevant to the concerns of most people.
She said she hopes the vetoes will send a message to the Legislature to “step it up” and deal with serious issues.
Asked whether her vetoes could spawn override attempts that could further delay consideration of important issues, she said, “What’s the option? They’re not dealing with them anyway.”
“I’m disappointed that the Legislature and, in particular, the House of Representatives is unconcerned with the maintenance and the upkeep of state facilities, especially the state Capitol,” she said.
“We’re all very familiar with the sewage problems, the electrical problems, the plumbing problems, the facade at the front of the state Capitol that is crumbling, the barricades we’ve had up now for 3 1/2 years and we’ve yet to take a step forward to find a solution to the problem and act upon that.”
A Senate-backed plan to authorize $160 million in bonds to fix the Capitol failed in the House, where some lawmakers expressed concern about debt and called for a pay-as-you-go plan.
Fallin said bonds have the advantage of not siphoning money away from other pressing needs, including common education. Oklahoma has less bond debt than most states, and many of its bonds will be retired in the coming five years.
“I’m asking the Legislature to work with me,” she said.
She said lawmakers in the House “continue to find ways to avoid passing meaningful legislation.”
In response, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Edmond, said veto override attempts are likely and that the governor’s office appeared to misunderstand some of the bills that were vetoed. He said the House has been acting in a more prudent manner than the Senate or the executive branch led by Fallin.
“The House is being the more financially responsible adult among the three parties,” Turner said. “One particular branch is having a temper tantrum.”
House Speaker Jeff Hickman said the House has passed portions of the governor’s agenda, including an income tax reduction measure, but found other parts — like the Capitol renovation bond issue — unacceptable.
“We know there are serious issues to resolve and the House intends to work every day, regardless of political rhetoric, to have a successful session for the people of Oklahoma,” Hickman said.
House Speaker Pro Tem Mike Jackson said he doesn’t think this legislative session is much different from others he has seen.
“In every legislative session — and this is my 10th year here — we don’t always get everything we would like done,” Jackson said. “This year is no different. At end of the day, the result will be good. We still have a lot of work to do but we have time to do it.”
He did acknowledge that political posturing tends to increase in an election year.
Range of issues
The Republican governor criticized the GOP-controlled Legislature on a broad range of issues.
She bemoaned a lack of legislative action on a bill requiring doctors to check a database to ensure patients are not getting multiple prescriptions for potentially dangerous medications such as painkillers.
She said she was disappointed the Legislature has not yet referred a measure to voters to allow local school districts to exceed bonding requirements one time to fund construction of storm shelters or other safety improvements.
She said there has been a lack of legislative action to reduce the $11 billion of unfunded liability in state pension systems.
Responding to a question, she said she wants to see action to finally approve funding to complete a long-stalled project to build the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City.
“We keep kicking the can down the road,” she said.
She said that with only about a month left in this legislation session, budget negotiations have been “too superficial and infrequent.”
Fallin said minor issues need to be set aside so there is time to work on pressing matters.
She described some of the bills she vetoed.
“One bill attempts to regulate the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is a federal agency, which the Oklahoma Legislature has no authority over,” she said.
Fallin said another bill she vetoed “wants to make it easier to sell stolen watches.”
“Another bill makes it easier for former employees of the ABLE commission who regulate the liquor industry to then go and work for the liquor industry, a potential conflict of interest and an invitation for cronyism,” she said.
“Another bill would pre-empt municipalities from enacting laws affecting the regulation and sale of knives. I don’t have a lot of people calling the Capitol to talk about those things.”