Senator Brian Bingman, in his weekly discussion with Capitol reporters, expressed satisfaction over legislative progress for the conservative agenda, but said workers compensation reforms would “be the next challenging test.”
He was glad the state House had moved forward on Senate Bill 435, a measure to change the composition of the state Board of Education as part of the Republican drive to give more power to state Superintendents of Public Instruction. The measure is back in the Senate, which is expected to move quickly on the measure.
Asked about repeal of a mandate on larger communities to engage in collective bargaining with some government employees, the Sapulpa Republican said the author of the legislation, Sen. Cliff Aldridge of Midwest City, was not ready for final consideration and held the bill over until next week.
On Corrections policy reform, a priority for House Speaker Kris Steele, Bingman said some members had “some concerns,” but that the Shawnee Republican’s measure would advance.
House Democrats have recently criticized Republicans for not yet ending any business tax credits or exemptions. Sen. Bingman said, “it is incumbent upon us to look at each of them, and, if they are not beneficial in achieving new jobs and the purposes for which they were created, to get rid of them.”
Bingman applauded Senator Mike Mazzei for guiding the upper chamber’s deliberations of business incentives and tax credits/exemptions. CapitolBeatOK asked if there had been consideration to sunset all credits and exemptions. He replied, “Then, in some cases, business has a concern. That might be a good approach in some cases, but not in all.”
As for the state budget, Bingman noted, “the appropriations chairmen of both the House and Senate meet regularly.” He did not promise the contours of a budget could be reached as soon as the third week of April, but observed, “It would be nice to get agreement and possibly go home early.”
Democrats have suggested in recent days that agencies might look at revolving funds or other reserves as a means to avoid budget cuts. Bingman said senators were “looking at certified numbers” for spending decisions. He added later that use of revolving funds, for instances when that is allowed, is “not off the table.”
Concerning reported budget gaps between the governor, on the one hand, and Speaker Steele and himself, on the other, Bingman said, “It is a process. We are looking at instances where some federal matching dollars might be involved, so a possible savings might cost us. We are trying now to sift through all the possibilities to come up with real numbers.”
In dialogue with the press, Bingman reiterated that “$500 million is what’s been certified” as the appropriations gap as the numbers crunching began. News reports, including those from CapitolBeatOK, has placed legislative Republican appropriations reductions as averaging between 5 and 7 percent, while the governor’s range from 3 to 5 percent.
Pressed on whether or not changes in information technology or agency consolidation could reach the level of savings the governor has projected, and whether that eventually would mean reductions in force for some agencies, Sen. Bingman replied, “Eventually you might see that if they can do more with less, but maybe not in year one.”
Pressed on furloughs or personnel cuts, Bingman repeated previous assertions that such decisions would be “up to agency directors and administrators working from the budget we give them.”
A reporter asked Bingman about the impact of “Tea Party” activism in the Republican party, and their influence or impact at the state Capitol. He reflected, “They do their homework. They work hard and read legislation. They are conscientious voters. All Republicans pay attention to them.”
He continued, “Their impact in every district is different, maybe more vocal in Tulsa. In my own district and my votes, my own constituents are most important to me. Whether they are Republican or Democrat, I listen to them.” He pointed to the “puppy mill” debate as one where grass roots constituents had impact in recent weeks.
Asked about reflections from some Democrats and commentators that Republicans might be “overstepping” and “going too far” with some proposals, including in measures to increase executive powers for Governor Mary Fallin, Bingman replied:
“I think we’re having a good open debate. There is some more power to the governor in some proposals. But there is no guarantee that all of those proposals will survive.”
Differences were widely reported this week on lawsuit reforms, including the “hard cap” on non-economic damages. That discussion drew further comments from Pro Tem Bingman, who said, “Overall, I think we are using an open door policy. I have good relations with Senator [Andrew] Rice, [the Democratic Senate leader] and am available to him. I am open to his calls. We talk frequently. He and his members have a lot to offer.
“There is opportunity for them. We do not go out of our way to exclude them. They get a fair shot at hearings.”
Concerning complaints about the latter stages of the “hard cap” debate , Bingman commented, “In that case of the author of the bill wanted to move forward. This debate has been going on for a long time. He wanted a vote, and was not amendable to put on amendments. Neither were most of the members. A majority on the floor did not want amendments.”
For those reasons, Bingman affirmed, the bill advanced to the governor’s desk quickly. Bingman said the process in the Senate has been “open and transparent.”
Pressed as to differences among Republicans themselves, Bingman smiled and said, “It’s nice that what we say I caucus meetings stays in caucus. It’s always a matter of open discussion. We do have our differences.” However, he said, in the end Republicans tend to come together to advance shared policy objectives.
On an important issue, Bingman stuck by his decision to refuse a hearing to H.B. 2130, the health insurance exchange measure. However, he said in today’s session with reporters that work was under way to assure an “Oklahoma-based” program would be established without entangling the state to become part of “ObamaCare.”