Oklahoma is at a crossroads, and State Senate Republicans are providing the new leadership Oklahoma needs in the 21st century. Our vision for 2008 and beyond includes forward-thinking policies and reforms to make Oklahoma a more prosperous and secure place to live and work, raise a family, start a business, go to school, and retire.
The Legislature’s 2008 session opened on February 4, with Senate and House members convening in joint session to hear Governor Brad Henry’s State of the State address. Republicans in the Legislature want to work with the governor in a bipartisan fashion to do the people’s business.
Many legislators are concerned, however, that the governor did not provide money in his budget for more than $200 million of spending he proposed in his State of the State address. We hope Governor Henry soon provides more specifics about how he plans to pay for his laundry list of promises.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are working to transform Oklahoma’s government, making it more accountable, innovative, and transparent. We will keep families safe by ensuring violent and habitual criminals stay behind bars and by repairing dilapidated roads and bridges. We support more tax relief to keep our economy moving. We’ll work for improvements in education and healthcare, and to promote critical economic reforms to attract jobs.
A bold initiative we have proposed for the 2008 legislative session is the creation of a Legislative Office of Accountability and Innovation to help prepare our government to meet the demands and needs of Oklahoma’s second century. It will be charged with conducting independent reviews of state agencies, programs, and taxes.
But the Office of Accountability and Innovation won’t just look for problems. It will identify innovations to make government more accessible, transparent, and accountable to the public. It will find reforms and best practices to streamline government and save money while providing better services for taxpayers.
Senate Republicans believe we must keep the promise of tax relief made to taxpayers. With the national economy slowing down, the Legislature can do its part to keep our state economy moving by ensuring the income tax is reduced to 5.25 percent as scheduled next January.
We are reviewing special interest tax breaks on the books to find those that are not creating jobs or growing the economy. By eliminating obsolete and ineffective tax incentives, these dollars can be directed to more meaningful tax reforms like lower income taxes.
Republicans have the led the way in providing reforms to fix Oklahoma’s roads and bridges. We want to expand recent reforms by redirecting existing motor vehicle taxes that now go to the general revenue fund and use this money for maintaining state, county, and municipal roads and bridges. This amounts to about $200 million a year.
Our proposal for meaningful lawsuit reform will help reduce healthcare costs and attract jobs to our state, and more reform is needed for Oklahoma’s costly workers compensation system, which fattens lawyers’ wallets at the expense of injured workers and businesses. Parents deserve more choices for alternative education opportunities for their children – especially those from low-performing schools. Improved accountability and transparency in student achievement and educational effectiveness remain a priority.
In closing, if you’ve opened the pages of a newspaper recently, you know there is a need for real and significant ethics rules governing the conduct of political campaigns and those of us entrusted to serve you. Recent revelations have shown that some members of both parties have breached that trust. Rest assured, the Senate will work with the new House leadership to enact significant, bipartisan change in ethics and oversight rules in 2008.