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Budget, economy top Oklahoma Senate Republicans’ 2017 legislative agenda

Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report
Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz leads a press conference unveiling the Senate Republican agenda for 2017.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz and the Senate Republican Caucus on Thursday unveiled a 2017 legislative agenda Thursday with an extensive list of issues ranging from economic growth, education issues, criminal justice and health care.

When the legislative session begins in February, Schulz said the caucus members will make Oklahoma’s budget concerns a priority throughout the session. The Pro Tempore said plugging a nearly $900 million budget hole is top priority for Oklahoma State Senators.

“One of the things we have to do every year is balance the budget,” Schulz said. “No one in this room I think believes this will be an easy budget year; it will be one of the most difficult we’ve seen. But we can’t get so bogged down in the media and what’s happening right now that we are going to lose sight of what’s happening five years from now. We have to put policies in place right now so we can continue to grow this economy, so we can continue to diversify this economy, continue to expand job opportunity so that our kids and grandkids who graduate high school, graduate career tech, graduate college, that they can stay in Oklahoma…”

Schultz said many of the issues the caucus would address are “long-term” impact measures and that change would not happen overnight.

“Because the decisions we make at the Capitol have a long-term impact, it’s important we have a plan of where we want to guide Oklahoma in five, 10 and 20 years,” said Schulz. “Senate Republicans are united in our desire to implement ideas and policies that will help our state’s economy grow and put us on a long-term path to prosperity. Helping our economy grow means more good-paying jobs for Oklahoma families and more resources to fund core government services without raising taxes.”

Appropriations Chair Sen. Kim David said the two economic drivers in the state – oil and gas and agriculture – were coming on slower than the state had hoped.

“We have some bills out there that will impact revenue and impact budget,” she said. “You guys have heard a lot about some different ideas out there on different revenue ideas. We will be working hard on those this year coming to terms with the best ones that puts us on the best path towards success for the state. We are hoping we will get some flexibility from D.C. on some of our programs on how to spend our money. Less regulation and oversight from Washington, D.C. just means that whatever happens, will help Oklahoma’s economy and state budget.”

The agenda would eliminate what Republican Senators said was “excessive” regulations in a move to stimulate and diversify the economy while also looking at which tax incentives needed to remain and which needed to be eliminated.

Education and health care were also high on the list of issues on the agenda, which called for reducing administrative costs and overhead in an effort to increase teacher salaries.

Other issues included support of law enforcement and monitoring criminal justice reform, improving the foster care system and support, supporting veterans and military families, protecting “unborn children” and promoting access to quality health care.

Below is the list of agenda items the Oklahoma Senate Republicans unveiled in Thursday’s press conference.

A more prosperous Oklahoma

Streamline and eliminate excessive regulations to stimulate job creation and economic growth.

Provide more stability, reliability and transparency in the state budgeting process.

Promote economic development and the diversification of the state’s economy.

Support transportation infrastructure including the eight-year plan.

Identify job-creating tax incentives, and eliminate ineffective tax incentives by supporting the work of the Incentive Evaluation Commission.

Investing in future generations

Respect and support teachers by removing obstacles that interfere with a teacher’s ability to help students learn and achieve.

Reduce administrative costs and overhead in an effort to increase teacher salaries.

Allow parents, taxpayers, and local school boards to more closely direct and increase the quality of education in the classroom.

Ensure accountability measures provide parents and taxpayers a useful and accurate reflection of school performance and student achievement.

A safer Oklahoma

Support law enforcement officers and the rights of the citizens they are sworn to protect.

Monitor the implementation of criminal justice reforms.

Provide oversight of law enforcement agencies and promote cooperation to eliminate duplication.

A healthier Oklahoma

Promote access to quality health care services especially for rural and underserved areas of Oklahoma.

Encourage “block grant” programs from the federal government that empower Oklahoma to infuse free-market principles into health care plans.

Reduce waste and duplication at health care agencies, and utilize innovative health care delivery methods.

Work with private and public sector partners to address mental health and substance abuse issues.

Protecting children, supporting families

Improve foster care and adoption services in Oklahoma, and strengthen support for foster families.

Reform social service programs so they offer economic mobility and help end dependency on government assistance.

Eliminate restrictions on non-profits and faith-based organizations that help fill the gaps in social services.

Continue Oklahoma’s commitment to defending the sanctity of life.

Supporting veterans, military families

Work to minimize licensing challenges for military spouses due to relocation.

Support public-private partnerships to develop a comprehensive health care system.

Ensure Oklahoma veterans are connected with existing mental health and social service programs.

Increase protection of service members’ financial and contractual rights when mobilized or deployed.

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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