By Sen. Casey Murdock
Weíre entering into the sixth week of session and completing floor consideration of bills in their House of Origin. My first two weeks have been hectic as I transitioned from the House to the Senate and am having to learn how the Senate works. Being a smaller body, they have different rules and procedures for their committees and floor work that Iíve had to learn quickly. Iím also getting to know more of my Senate colleagues that I havenít had a change to get to know until this point. I had to stay late last week to catch up after the storms.
Just over 360 Senate bills made it out of committee along with nearly 70 carryover bills from last session. This week, we made it through around 140 bills so weíre probably going to be working longer days this week to meet Thursdayís deadline. Granted some Senators may decide not to have all of their bills heard because of duplication or knowing they wonít have the votes to pass. Iíd guess weíre going to be considering only around 170 or so more bills.
To get a better grasp of the fiscal needs of state agencies in light of the budget numbers approved last month by the State Board of Equalization, the Senate has holding weekly budget hearings with the stateís largest agencies along with some smaller ones based on their budget requests.
Revenues are steadily climbing, which is promising but weíve got obligations to fulfill that are going to allow for a flat budget at best. Total 12-month collections are up by $929.3 million or 8.6 percent. Collections from every major revenue stream except for corporate income tax from the past year compared to the previous one have shown growth. However, we canít become complacent. We must continue working diligently to create new streams of revenue while saving money through apportionment reforms and other means.
Last week, several of my colleagues and I worked to kill the committee substitute for SB 1392, in the Appropriations Committee. The original bill sought to stop the sales tax exemption for qualifying agricultural purchases totaling less than $25,000 per year for sales occurring after November 1, 2018. The exemption would be paid in the form of a refund. However, the substitute brought forth in Appropriations maintained the point-of-sale feature of the exemption but would have modified the qualifications and procedures for claiming the exemption. For applications made after November 1, 2018, they would have been required to show that they have reported income from farming on a tax return. There was a special refund provision for applicants who are so new to farming that they have not yet filed their first income tax return with farm income.
I also want to address our local teachers. Please know that House and Senate Republicans have brought forth and approved multiple plans to fund various levels of pay raises for you all. Our efforts, however, were blocked by a handful of House Democrats who keep changing their demands as to how to fund the pay raise but we arenít giving up. I would recommend, though, if you participate in the walkout to visit our Democrat friends in the House and urge them to do whatís right and approve any future bills that will create revenue for your much-needed pay increase.
This week, the Senate overwhelmingly approved SJR 70, which proposes a vote of the people on a constitutional amendment that expands the uses of certain ad valorem taxes levied by a school district for operations including pay raises.
We also approved its companion bill, SB 1398, which authorizes the use of school district building funds to be used for district operations including pay raises. Both of these measures would give local districts more flexibility in deciding what their most critical needs are and put these funds towards those efforts.
I will tell you that Iím concerned about the timing of the proposed walk-out and how long it takes to get a bill through the legislative process but we will do our best.
Please feel free to contact my Capitol office regarding legislative issues or other questions about government. You can reach me by calling 405.521.5626 or emailing email@example.com.
Casey Murdock was sworn into his office Monday, Feb. 26, 2018
Chief Justice Douglas Combs administers the oath of office to Sen Murdock. Wife Amiee and son Scott are to the right.
By the time you read this I will have been sworn into the state Senate. The ceremony was 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26.
Iím representing Senate District 27, which covers Northwestern Oklahoma and the entire Panhandle. Iím not leaving House District 61 so much as Iím just moving over to a different legislative chamber. No need for goodbyes. Iíll still be serving your interests.
In the Senate, Iíll be serving on the following committees: General Government, Agriculture and Wildlife, Public Safety, the full Appropriations and Budget Committee and the A&B Natural Resources and Regulatory Subcommittee.
The deadline for bills to be passed out of committee is March 1, so Iíll have a short window to get fully immersed in these committees this session. Thankfully, Iím already familiar with a number of bills to be considered.
Iíve already had my first meeting with the Majority Caucus in the Senate. Iím excited to work with these senators on future legislation and an overall plan for putting the state on a successful economic track for the future.
On that line of thought, the state Board of Equalization met last week to certify revenue for Fiscal Year 2019, which starts in July. The board estimates we will have a budget gap of about $167 million between what was appropriated for FY18 and what will be available for FY19. This is great news considering the dire predictions just last fall that the revenue gap could be as much as $800 million and the $1.3 billion shortfall we faced just two years ago. It is possible that by the time we agree on a final appropriations package for FY19 the gap could be nonexistent or much smaller.
In the meantime, we are very close to closing the books on the FY18 budget. The House and Senate both passed House Bill 1020XX last week to appropriate the final bit of revenue to state agencies. We were about $45 million short of being fully funded for FY18; this bill cuts less than 1 percent across the board for our agencies. The bill is expected to be signed by the governor this week. Once that happens, our second special session should be adjourned.
I will be in office 525 on the Senate side. If you find yourself at the state Capitol, stop by. Iíll get you an updated phone number in a future column.
Iíll be sworn into the Oklahoma state Senate at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Even though I will now be senator instead of representative, I will still be at the state Capitol representing your interests and taking care of business for Northwest Oklahoma. If you have any issues, please still continue to call my office phone and they will get your call to me.
At the Capitol, we are working to finish our second special session, closing out the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. We have to find about $45.7 million, or 0.67 percent of the original $6.8 billion appropriated for the fiscal year.
Next week, weíll be getting revenue numbers from the state Board of Equalization for the Fiscal Year 2019 budget. I expect the numbers to be much better than predictions last fall.
By the time you read this, I should have gotten all of my House Bills passed off of the House floor and advanced to the Senate, where I can hear them from that chamber. My intent is to have all my House work cleaned up and finished so it can continue moving through the legislative process.
Last week, I passed a public safety bill out of committee that I will be able to present from the Senate side. The deadline for all bills to be passed out of committee is March 1. Once bills are out of committee, they are eligible to be heard by the full House or Senate, depending on where they originate.
On a final note, I want to discuss the vote last Monday on the Step Up Oklahoma plan. The major revenue portion of this bill failed to receive the three-fourths majority required by the state Constitution to pass. I voted no.
I realize a lot of teachers are upset because that bill did not pass. I have voted for a teacher pay raise every year Iíve been in office, but this bill was much more than just a teacher pay raise. There were a lot of hidden things in this bill that would have been harmful for District 61. I am not a no vote on a straight teacher pay raise, but I had to be no on something bad for my district. When I first ran for office, I vowed not to vote for something I would have to hang my head over once I got back home. This bill would have put me to shame. Iíll continue to work to get a teacher pay raise as well as funding for other necessary state services, just as I work to protect freedom and taxpayer dollars from waste and abuse. Iíll keep in touch.
Step Up Not the Right Plan for NW Oklahoma
By Rep. Casey Murdock
On Monday, the House voted on the Step Up Oklahoma plan. As you probably heard, I voted no, and I wanted to explain.
I realize Oklahoma is in a tough spot fiscally and we need to look at revenue sources, but this plan is just not right for Northwest Oklahoma. There were good parts of the plan, but the bad parts simply outweighed the good.
For one thing, voting on such a major piece of legislation in the second week of session without it going through the regular process is the wrong way to do this. I know people get frustrated with how slow government works, but the process is in place for good reason. Letting the process work, I have seen more times than not that you wind up with a much better law because of the process itself. Letting 101 lawmakers and 48 senators fully vet something as important as a more than $600 million tax increase assures that people in every area of Oklahoma get taken into consideration.
Second, this plan messes with our basic core tax structure; I have problems with that.
Although I am the first to tell you teachers need a pay raise, so do all state employees. We need a plan that will address them as well. Another concern I had is this plan does not assure me that schools off of the state funding formula would receive the money for the teacher raise.
I truly believe we can do better than this, and I am confident we will do better than this this session. Session has just started, after all. Our state revenue coming in is so much better this year than last. The Board of Equalization is releasing numbers this week for the fiscal year 2019 budget, and I am confident we will discover we will have flat budget for the year ahead Ė much better than the $800 million budget hole predicted last fall.
This begs the question of whether we really need more than $600 million in tax increases. Let me offer a further breakdown of what this would do for the average taxpayer. It lowers the standard income tax deduction for those making more than $25,000 filing single, $37,500 filing as head of household or $50,000 for married filing jointly. It would add a 6-cent tax on gasoline and diesel. It would add a $1.50 cent tax on cigarettes and additional tax on other tobacco products.
This could negatively affect District 61ís economy, and I fear it could hurt our towns by pushing people across the border to buy fuel and cigarettes. While they are there, they might go ahead and buy groceries and other products. Whatís good for Oklahoma City is not always good for Northwest Oklahoma. Oklahoma City does not have to worry about their consumers going across state lines to buy cigarettes or gasoline. We do.
While the Step Up plan was the most major piece of legislation considered this week, there is still other business taking place. My drone bill passed out of committee last week and will head to the floor for a vote. I still have other bills in committee.
One final note: young people who want to page from the district should contact my office. I get four pages in the House, and will have four pages in the Senate. Even when I move from the House, I can still use my slots; the students would just report to another representative. This actually gives students in Northwest Oklahoma double the opportunity to participate in the page program.
Casey Murdock serves District 61 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He can be reached by phone at (405) 557-7384 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The legislative session will have begun by the time you read this.
As Iím writing this, I just got off the phone with the speaker of the House. After many conversations, I feel confident I have convinced House leadership not to mess with county ad valorem taxes when it comes to the Step Up Oklahoma plan This plan, put forward by a number of business leaders from across the state, would increase revenues to pay for a $5,000 teacher pay raise and fund core government services while also instituting a number of reforms aimed at making state government more accountable, transparent and efficient. The plan may come to a vote on the House floor as soon as this week.
In the meantime, Iíve been in discussion with folks who work for local offices of the state Health Department. I know some workers are facing furloughs and some services are threatened with being cut. I have been working on this with our local office officials and have made calls and sent letters to the state department to explain how important these services are to us who live in the Panhandle. Our residents have to drive further than anyone else in the state for these services. If they must make cuts, they do not need to be in Northwest Oklahoma.
Just a reminder of a few of the bills Iíve filed for this legislative session:
One is my drone bill, brought forward from last year. This had the votes to pass last year, but I laid it over because I had given a Senate colleague my word that I would have certain language in the bill that inadvertently got left out of the final version. This is about personal property and privacy rights.
Another bill focuses on giving local school boards the final say over whether or not a charter school can move into a district. This is a matter of local control. Local school boards are in a much better position to make this call instead of it being determined by the state Board of Education.
A third bill deals with the bidding process for counties to allow them to take bids and buy road materials for a full year instead of project by project. This common-sense measure will allow counties to get a better deal by buying and will save some money.
Remember, next week is Valentines Day. Show some love.
November 2, 2017
Budget Plan Gives Teachers a Pay Raise, Funds Healthcare
By Rep. Casey Murdock
House Speaker Charles McCall alongside the governor and the state Senate leader this morning laid out a budget plan that if passed with replace funds to three Oklahoma healthcare agencies and give teachers and state employees a much needed pay raise.
The plan includes raising the tax on a package of cigarettes by $1.50, raising the tax on gasoline by 6 cents, revising taxes on alcohol and restoring the earned income tax credit for Oklahomaís lowest earners. Together, the revenue will restore the $215 million missing currently from the budgets of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Department of Human Services; plus, it will fund a $3,000 teacher pay raise and give state employees a $1,000 pay raise.
Without the revenue, cuts to the three healthcare agencies mentioned above will put programs in danger that serve children, senior citizens, those who are disabled and those who pose a danger to themselves or others because they lack adequate mental health care. Without these services, we risk greater healthcare costs in the long run and increased incarceration rates for those who canít get alternative services.
There has not been an increase to the minimum teacher salary schedule since 2008. Weíre losing highly qualified teachers to surrounding states where they can draw more pay, and our classrooms are being filled with teachers who have received emergency certifications instead of the education and training provided those who go the traditional certification route.
State employees havenít had a pay raise in 11 years. These are people who provide necessary services such as health department inspections, educational support services, transportation, public safety and more.
While this budget plan certainly isnít perfect, itís the best compromise we could make at a time where Oklahoma is still climbing out of the recession and recovering from the depression of the energy sector. This plan will put us on firmer financial footing as we move into the future, and it will ensure healthcare services can continue for those who need them most.
Casey Murdock serves District 61 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He can be reached by phone at (405) 557-7384 or via email at email@example.com.
October 26, 2017
Weíre in week three since the governor called a special session of the Legislature, and weíre only slightly further along in budget negotiations that we were in February.
The problem really is that a majority of the Legislature believe a limited amount of revenue should be raised to fill the $215 million budget hole left by the state Supreme Courtís ruling that the Smoking Cessation Act of 2017 was unconstitutional. The act would have raised the fee on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50, with the revenue going primarily to three healthcare agencies. Without the funding, we risk losing senior nutrition programs, childcare supplements, help for disabled adults, programs that allow the aging to remain in their homes and others.
Most lawmakers in rural Oklahoma know the hardships our rural hospitals and nursing homes face on a daily basis to provide Medicaid services and to keep the doors open to those in need. We want to help them. But, any plan to raise revenue takes a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the Legislature. This requirement was put in place by a vote of the people in 1992. It keeps the Legislature from raising taxes without the consent of the taxpayer. This is a good thing. But, in the House of Representatives, the two-thirds majority equals 76 votes. Republicans hold 72 seats. The one tax increase many Oklahomans have said they would support is the cigarette tax. A majority of House Republicans have said they would support this, and a number of Democrats have said they would support it. But, the Democrats will not support it as a stand-alone vote. They want to tie it to an increase in gross production tax, an elimination of sales tax credits for wind, an increase fuel tax, an increase in the income tax for high-income earners, an addition of taxes on a number of services not currently taxes. This is a lot of tax increases that the majority of conservative Republicans just will not support.
So we stand at an impasse.
Thankfully, the speaker recessed the House to a call of the chair on the third day of the special session, meaning taxpayers will not be charged the $30,000 a day it costs for the special session while budget negotiations continue between House and Senate leadership and the governorís office.
We initially were told to be ready to return to session Monday afternoon this week, but later were told no deal had been reached. So we wait.
In the meantime, Iíve attended every caucus meeting and expressed the wishes of my constituents in Northwest Oklahoma. Iíve attended policy working groups to make sure we are moving in a positive direction for the future of Oklahoma once we are past this current budget impasse. I continue to work every day for the people who live in my district. I continue to be a small-government conservative who wants to keep necessary core government services running but who refuses to bloat government at the cost of the taxpayer. Iíll keep you updated on our progress.