Woodward, Okla. —
By James Coburn
The Edmond Sun
OKLAHOMA CITY — The state of Oklahoma is strong and Gov. Mary Fallin asked legislators to continue making it stronger at the governor’s annual State of the State address Monday at the state Capitol.
Oklahoma state government has helped the state’s economy to flourish, she said. State government has set the stage for job creation, personal income growth and has restored the state’s economy to 2008 pre-recession job levels, Fallin said.
“We have achieved those results by prioritizing our spending, promoting pro-business policy and lowering taxes,” said Fallin, who earlier in the day announced her re-election bid.
Fallin asked legislators to reduce the top income tax bracket from 5.25 percent to 5.0 percent. This reduction would result after the first $8,700 of income made by every Oklahoma taxpayer, she said.
“I loved that she wanted to be more progressive about cutting taxes, bringing the rate of government growth down,” said Carol Hefner, an Edmond-area resident.
The fourth highest job growth rate belongs to Oklahoma with more than 62,400 new jobs created in two years, Fallin said. Data found at www.okcommerce.gov shows that aerospace, defense, energy, agriculture, biosciences, information and financial services, transportation and distribution offer the greatest potential for generating wealth and jobs in Oklahoma, Fallin said.
“All children deserve a world-class education regardless of their ZIP code. We believe great schools make great students, which make great communities and a stronger state,” Fallin said.
One way to further strengthen Oklahoma’s workforce is by emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math at all levels of public education, Fallin said. Jobs in these fields are growing three times faster than other jobs, Fallin continued.
“Unemployment in Oklahoma has been reduced by 30 percent from a high of 7 percent at the end of 2010 to an enviable 5.7 percent today — one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation,” Fallin said.
Fallin proposed a $13.5 million increase to education to fund recently enacted reforms, as well as an $8.5 million supplemental funding request to pay for teachers’ health benefits.
Families are the strength of Oklahoma, Fallin said. Oklahoma’s median family household income has risen has risen by $4,000 since 2011 to place the state No. 1 in the U.S. for per capita income growth for families, she said.
Fiscal responsibility has been restored to state government, Fallin said. A record high of nearly $600 million has increased the state’s Rainy Day Fund from $2 since January of 2011.
Frivolous malpractice lawsuits are at a 10-year low for the state. Recent workers compensation reforms have reduced the total cost of claims, Fallin said.
“I am committed to working with the House and the Senate to pursue additional reform to lower the cost for business in our state and to protect our injured workers,” Fallin said.
She called for more conversion from state gasoline powered vehicles to compressed natural gas vehicles. Using CNG cars and trucks will save taxpayers millions of dollars in fuel costs, support energy jobs, grow our state’s revenue, Fallin said.
“CNG vehicles can save up to $20,000 in fuel costs over their life cycle,” Fallin said.
Fallin praised legislators for consolidating the IT resources of 50 agencies for a savings of $84 million. The state will be adding another 30 agencies to its list this year for a potential savings to approach $239 million over seven years, Fallin said.
Fallin also proposed $10 million be allocated this year to begin a total renovation of the state Capitol building. Her office has noted a $150 million cost for updating the Capitol and making it safe.
“The Capitol is the symbol of our state, a place of business, a living museum dedicated to preserving Oklahoma’s history, its literature and its art work,” Fallin said. “It’s not right for our visitors to come to the Capitol and see construction cones and barriers outside — to have crumbling facades from the top and a faulty sewer system that stinks.”
Repairing and modernizing the state Capital is essential, said state Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond.
“It has to be done,” Cooksey said.
In addition, Fallin pledged to work for a more affordable and accessible health care and health insurance options.
“Of course, when we talk about health, we need to remember mental health as well,” Fallin said. “The recent tragedy of Sandy Hook was an unwelcome reminder of what can happen when mental health needs go ignored.”
She proposed a $16 million increase for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for programs such as the Systems of Care Initiative to assist the children and families of children with emotional disturbances.
“By getting to these children and their families at an early age, we can help them to live healthy and happy lives, rather than pursue a path that can lead to self-destructive behavior, crime, or worse,” Fallin said.