Eggs and Issues

From left, State Rep. Carl Newton, Sanders and State Sen. Casey Murdock were on hand to discuss state issues and the start of the legislative session Friday at High Plains Technology Center. The Eggs and Issues program is sponsored by the Woodward Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Johnny McMahan)

Area legislators were at High Plains Technology Center on Friday for the first installment of Eggs and Issues put on by the Woodward Chamber of Commerce.

Topic were varied, ranging from the budget to health care to the effort to keep William S. Key Correctional Center off a potential closure list in the future.

State Rep. Mike Sanders, in his final legislative session due to term limits, said to expect a flat budget this year after a couple of years of "really good economic growth numbers."

Sanders noted the oil and gas economy is down a bit right now but noted "we've taken great strides in diversifying our economy with wind, aerospace and other industries."

Sanders said the legislature will continue to put a priority on education after teacher raises the past two years.

"Work still needs to be done," he said.

Medicaid expansion is on a lot of minds right now with Governor Stitt offering up a plan (labeled SoonerCare 2.0 by some) to expand through block grants from the federal government, and a state question (SQ 802) that will be on the ballot some time this year to accept the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act passed in the Obama administration. Passage of the question would bring federal money to the state with the state responsible for 10 percent of the program - a number that could increase at some future point.

"I personally have major problems with that (state question)," Sanders said. "When you put something like that in the state constitution and taxpayers will be on the hook every time if the federal government comes in five years later and says they're not going to provide the money, then the state will be on the hook (for the entire cost).

"We need to do what's best for Oklahoma and that is something we will be spending a lot of time on."

Sanders also said a cost of living increase for state retirees and government efficiency will be a focus in this session.

Murdock also discussed Medicaid expansion, saying the governor's plan is a more conservative approach.

Murdock said, while he could not give details yet, a fellow state senator is planning to roll out a health plan on Monday that is "very, very conservative and in my mind a great plan for Oklahoma that will put us No. 1 in the nation for health care outcomes."

Murdock said letters, emails and phone calls from area residents are making a difference in the William S. Key situation. The Fort Supply prison is reportedly one of five that may be up for closure after a future review.

"A decision is not going to happen anytime soon, they (corrections officials) are gathering numbers and looking at the idea. We need to be active in the decision-making process," Murdock said.

The senator discussed the importance of everyone taking part in the upcoming census.

"Every dime of federal money (distributed to states, cities. . .) is tied to the census," Murdock said, including FEMA, education, hospitals and more.

In addition to the question on Medicaid expansion, Rep. Carl Newton focused some on conservation noting that several earthen dams that protect major areas in Oklahoma need to be taken care of.

"We're going to try and re-bond some money to make an emphasis on those," he said. "We need to take care of that to avoid major problems down the road."

In response to a question concerning the ongoing battle between the governor and tribes over gaming compacts, Newton said, "I agree that tribes need to give more money back to the state but I don't agree with how the governor did it. (The situation move to court and is now in mediation). My fear is a trial will on come out the way the governor wants."

Other questions were on budgeting process, tax credits, appointments to boards and commissions and more.

The next Eggs and Issues will be in May at or near the end of the legislative session.

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