IN her State of the State speech Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin called for lawmakers to “keep the pedal to the metal, accelerate the state's growth, and continue to build a stronger and better Oklahoma.” The proposals she outlined, while less turbocharged than the “pedal to the metal” rhetoric might imply, deserve support.
Last year Fallin unsuccessfully sought a major tax overhaul that would have dramatically lowered income tax rates, to be offset with eliminating credits and deductions. This year, her goal is a simple quarter-point reduction that would cut the top rate to 5 percent. The tax cut would be covered by existing growth revenue.
We agree that tax reduction is needed, particularly since the top rate applies to those earning as little as $8,700. Adding another incremental cut to those approved in recent years will increase the private-sector fuel that feeds economic growth.
Notably, Fallin's call to “accelerate the state's growth” often meant simply preserving existing reforms, particularly in education. Since 80 percent of jobs in the future will require more than a high school degree and there is a direct correlation between Oklahoma's per capita income and the education levels of our citizens, Fallin rightly noted education is a major component of economic development.
A Republican starting her third year in office, she called the approval or implementation of high school graduation standards, A-F grading of schools and third-grade reading requirements “enormous steps” to improve education outcomes and increase accountability. She backed her rhetoric by seeking new funding for those initiatives.
We were pleased Fallin drew a line in the sand for those seeking to roll back reform measures, flatly declaring, “We cannot afford to water down education reforms.” Fallin may not have made an explicit veto threat, but made obvious she won't support legislation turning back the clock on school improvement.
In a similar fashion, the governor vowed to preserve Department of Human Services' reforms enacted last year to improve care of abused children, and called for additional funding. Too often, lawmakers are willing to enact significant reforms one session, but wilt away in subsequent years when the forces of the status quo object. By defending past gains, Fallin is ensuring Oklahoma's trajectory continues in the right direction.
Fallin gave a strong defense of her decision to reject Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, which would cost the state at least $689 million by 2022 and increase dependence on unsustainable federal spending. However, we wish she would have fleshed out state-centered alternatives under consideration in addition to calling for greater mental health funding and efforts to reduce suicide and prescription drug abuse.
We agree with Fallin's statement that “out-of-control workers' compensation costs have been a burden on those doing business in Oklahoma” and that “more needs to be done” to reform the system. But she failed to join legislative leaders in endorsing replacement of the existing litigation-based system with an administrative system.
Fallin justifiably praised Oklahoma's recent economic performance, but our high workers' comp costs remain a notable impediment to growth. It's time to gut and replace this failed system, driving down business costs and removing an unnecessary roadblock to job creation.
While not as ambitious as past efforts, Fallin's 2013 agenda maintains a focus on job creation and economic growth that has allowed Oklahoma to thrive. If lawmakers do the same, this could be a very successful legislative session.