Oklahoma lawmakers begin what may be the last week of this legislative session Monday knowing that many of this year’s pressing issues were resolved in a budget deal Friday.
The deal included employee raises, a plan to fix the crumbling state Capitol and an $80 million hike for common education.
But at least two key issues are still hanging fire:
•One of Gov. Mary Fallin’s top priorities, a bill that would refer to voters a measure allowing school districts a one-time hike in bonding authority to fund school storm shelters and other safety improvements.
•A plan for permanently setting Oklahoma’s gross production tax rate at 2 percent for the first 48 months on all new oil and gas wells, followed by a 7 percent tax rate for the remainder of each well’s production.
And while Fallin on Friday praised the new, $7.1 billion budget as responsible and realistic, there was also disappointment over what didn’t get done.
A proposal that she and the state Senate had supported to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City did not get included in the spending agreement. The House failed to support a plan to provide $40 million from the state’s unclaimed property fund, to be matched by $40 million in private donations, to finally complete the long-stalled project.
Alex Weintz, her spokesman, said Fallin wants to see the project completed.
“It is currently a half-built project lying unused on prime riverside real estate, costing taxpayers money every month even as it is ignored,” he said. “The governor supports using a mixture of public and private dollars to complete the museum and ensure it begins to add value and revenue to the state. Unfortunately, the Legislature was never able to agree on a way to secure funding for the museum this year.”
It’s not clear whether a proposal to fund the project could be resurrected as this session draws to a close, but officials are not optimistic.
State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger characterized the proposal as “dead,” and state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said there simply wasn’t a viable proposal in play.
Jolley said the sticking point came when House leaders were unwilling to authorize $40 million from the unclaimed property fund.
“The counter-proposals that the House has floated in the last week would have required $10 million less from the state, which would have left the project $20 million to $30 million shy,” Jolley said Friday. “That was not acceptable to us because we strongly believe that it’s an $80 million problem and we provided an $80 million solution with $40 million of it being from unclaimed property. The House was not willing to give that bill a hearing and the bill died on the House side.”
The budget agreement requires passage of several bills this week. This year’s session could conclude as early as this coming Friday.