By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Enid area lawmakers reacted favorably to Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State address Monday.
Fallin opened the 2013 legislative session Monday outlining her agenda for lawmakers.
Fallin asked for a one-quarter percent cut to the state’s top income tax rate, which will reduce the rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. The top rate applies to Oklahomans who make more than $8,700 a year.
She also asked for nearly $20 million in supplemental funding to begin repairs on the state Capitol and for teacher benefits. Fallin is asking for $10 million to repair the exterior facade of the Capitol building and to pay for an engineering study that would include a price tag for a total renovation of the building.
In addition, she sought $8.5 million in supplemental funds for the state Department of Education to pay for the costs of flexible benefit allowance for public school teachers and staff. Costs have exceeded projections made during the 2012 session.
While generally in favor of Fallin’s remarks, State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said he was disappointed in the amount of money being targeted for education.
“I think we could spend more in that area. I didn’t disagree with anything else, but I think we need to put more funding toward education,” Anderson said.
Fallin asked for $13.5 million in additional funding for common education. The state Department of Education asked for $280 million more to bring school funding back to the level it was last year.
Anderson said there are 10,000 more students statewide this year, and many schools — like Enid and neighboring schools — are bursting at the seams.
“We have new kids, more kids, and a lot of schools are struggling to make ends meet,” Anderson said.
Concerning Fallin’s tax cut, Anderson said he does not think it goes far enough. He said he was disappointed the governor is not taking a more bold approach. Anderson has proposed a flat tax rage of 2.95 percent, which would give Oklahoma the lowest state tax in the United States.
“That’s what’s crazy about the tax system,” Anderson said, referring to the fact Oklahomans making more than $8,700 are in the top bracket.
With the tax credits available in the state, the system can be manipulated, which is why his flat tax rate is good, Anderson said. He said he wants to eliminate all tax “giveaways” and begin taxing everyone equally. He said if the tax exemptions and credits are eliminated, the proposal would be revenue-neutral.
“A single mom with two kids pays more taxes than a married couple making the same amount of money. It’s just not a fair tax system,” Anderson said.
State Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, said he liked the governor’s approach to a tax cut. He said this approach is what he pushed for last year, when a larger tax cut the governor requested did not pass the House.
“We still need to look at tax credits and shave those off along with it. At least it’s a step in the right direction,” Enns said.
Enns also liked the supplemental funding approach for work on the state Capitol. He said he questions how Capitol repairs will be funded; If the state has excess revenue, he favors using part of that for Capitol repairs.
He also approved of the $13.5 million request for additional funds for common education. Enns stopped short of state School Superintendent Janet Barresi’s request for $280 million, calling that too much money when there are other core services that need attention.
“Let’s use these excess funds wisely,” he said.
State Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, said the tax cut is a good idea. He said the proposal of moving from 5.25 to 5 percent is a responsible move.
“One of the things we run on when we’re first elected is putting more tax money back in the taxpayer’s pocket. We want to do it in a way that won’t put government at risk,” Jackson said.
He said Fallin’s proposal is more responsible than those of the past few years, and it will be met with far less resistance.
“I applaud the governor for adding money for schools,” Jackson said. “As transportation costs go up, we will see a huge discussion — the speaker talked about it. We need to make sure we are investing in our schools. That will be part of our early discussions.”
Repairs to the state Capitol also are a priority, he said.
“The governor said we need to address that. Infrastructure is something that should be considered every year,” he said.
Jackson said there will be discussion in terms of bonds, and the governor mentioned a pay-as-you-go system.
“That does not preclude bonds, but we need to make sure at the end of the day, if there is no solution, we have a backup plan in place,” he said.