By Rep. JAMES LOCKHART
A highlight of the week began at 8:30 Monday morning before we started the legislative session. I joined the Oklahoma Prayer Caucus. Oklahoma is out front on this issue; we are only the eighth state in the nation to organize a prayer caucus.
There has been a bi-partisan prayer caucus in the US Congress since 2005. At 9:30, a ceremony was held in the rotunda of the Capitol and over 70 state legislators signed the “Call to Prayer” proclamation. It is encouraging to see so many members from both sides of the isle seek wisdom and guidance from the Lord.
I want to add that it was a wonderful honor having visitors this week from several LeFlore County churches stop by. Many people came by to drop off a rose and express their support for pro-life legislation. I am pleased to say that pro-life measures passed with strong bipartisan support last year. House Democratic Leader Scott Inman said it best: it’s not a Democratic or Republican issue; it’s a right and wrong issue.
The 2nd session of the 53rd Legislature was called to order on Monday at 12:30 p.m. I was extremely pleased that our first order of business was to pause for a moment of reflection for Rusty Farley, who passed away on July 4, 2011. Rusty was very well liked among members from both parties. I was impressed with his kind and gentle spirit.
Lt. Governor Todd Lamb introduced Governor Mary Fallin to deliver the State of the State address.
The first issue the governor asked the legislature to address was to pass a resolution calling for the federal government to adopt a balanced budget amendment similar to what we have in the Oklahoma constitution.
This was met with a sizeable round of applause from those in attendance. Earlier this summer I signed a resolution calling for the federal government to adopt a balanced budget amendment. Gov. Fallin then called upon the legislature to focus on legislation to create jobs, improve infrastructure and prepare our workforce in the state. The significant loss of one-time funds from the federal government will need to be addressed this year.
Gov. Fallin is also asking for a bond issue to make repairs to the State Capitol Building and additional funding for other programs. Roads and bridges, along with health care improvements, must also be addressed. The governor called for a restoration of funds to several road programs, along with a plan to repair all of our bad bridges in the state.
Tax cuts and revisions were key points in her speech, and the Governor hopes that the legislature will revise the income tax system. She would like for us to have the lowest income tax burden in the region by eliminating the income tax altogether. She seeks to reduce the seven bracket system to three and she insists we need to make sure those making $30,000 or less would pay nothing in income taxes. The lost revenues resulting from the income tax reduction will supposedly be made up by positive economic growth under her plan.
However, the Governor also wants to eliminate various credits, such as the earned income tax credits, child tax credits, low-income sales tax relief credits and low income property tax credits, all of which benefit middle-class Oklahoma families. That would in effect mean that more of the remaining tax burden would be shifted to those groups.
I have several concerns about the Governor’s tax plan. I will not support a tax increase on any income level and I am wary of increases in deficit spending, which is basically asking our children to pay our debt. State question 640 requires a ¾ vote of both the House and the Senate in order to raise taxes, cutting taxes only requires a simple majority.
If the governor’s tax cutting plan fails it could be a nightmare for those who have to fix it. I am urging my colleagues to use caution and prudence in this matter. We owe it to future generations of Oklahomans not to leave them a state that is heavily burdened by debt and policies that are all but impossible to change.
I tended to agree with the governor on several points from her address. We need to repair our roads and bridges and ensure that our children receive a high quality education. It appears she wants to reach consensus on many of the issues. I expect spirited debate, but reasonable and realistic solutions for the state.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me to discuss any issues, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502. You can also email me at [email protected] or find me on Facebook. Thank you and God Bless America !