In a Monday evening interview, Oklahoma City state Senator Andrew Rice, leader of Democrats in the upper chamber, expressed agreement with several aspects of Governor Mary Fallin’s State of the State speech.
Rice told CapitolBeatOK, “There were certainly high notes or high points in her speech. I was encouraged by her comments on criminal justice reform. I am supportive of ideas to shift toward ‘tough but smart’ policies. This will be a tricky political issue for the governor but it certainly needs to be worked on.
“She is definitely going to have support for the proposals to streamline IT [information technology] services, especially if that frees up resources for critical core services, and especially if we can prevent cuts to child services.”
Concerning the approach taken in Fallin’s executive budget, also presented Monday (February 7), Rice said, “ I was relieved to see the range of cuts was typically only 3 to 5%” for most agencies.
Rice said he and members of his caucus are “concerned about the details she did outline on workers compensation reform, and in the area of tort changes I am concerned about the $250,000 cap on [non-economic] damages.
“You know, we all should look warily at caps on legitimate legal services and awards. Most often those decisions should be left up to juries who have all the facts. And, what about instances where it’s a business vs. a business in litigation? In that instance it is hard to describe a limit on one side as ‘pro-business.’”
Rice observed it was “interesting that there was no mention of the hot button social issues.” He continued, “It is clear this was a well-thought out speech. It definitely had a lot of work and reflected a meaningful approach. I especially think that’s true of the budget. The consolidation of administrative services is something I believe many of us can support. We’ll see what the details are.”
Asked if he been given an opportunity to offer input into the process, Rice revealed: “Yes, we had a meeting a week or so ago with those involved in the budget process. It was a good session. I have a good relationship with Glenn Coffee from the Senate years, and that will carry over into this process. I am glad to see them trying to work to soften the core agency budget cuts. I had really thought there might be deeper cuts there. I didn’t see a lot of ideology in the budget.”
Senator Rice predicted, “In the end, I think there will be some [agency or program] consolidation.”
Rice was explicitly wary of Republican ideas on workers compensation and lawsuit reforms, telling CapitolBeatOK, “On the education board changes approved in committee Monday, I am concerned. I was not happy with the comments of a couple of the board members at the contentious meeting, and with the way they acted. However, I am very worried about cleansing the board of its powers.
“You can make a case for some changes in the board powers, but to wipe it clean might be a mistake. There is a purpose to the Board of Education. I don’t think that the fact there are ornery members should be a reason to make changes this dramatic.”
Also on Monday, a statement from the Oklahoma Democratic party said, “Gov. Fallin made some good points along with some questionable proposals and avoided addressing some key issues. One bright spot of Fallin’s address was her statement that she would eliminate tax credits to companies who are not creating jobs.”
In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Democratic party chairman Todd Goodman commented, “In a year when we are facing a severe budget shortage, we can not afford ill-advised tax breaks that don’t provide jobs,” Goodman said. “I applaud Fallin’s smart government position on this issue.”
Goodman, like fellow Democrat Rice and Republican leaders, applauded Fallin’s intention to seek alternatives to incarceration for some crimes.
However, the state Democratic party statement said Fallin’s speech included “some alarming proposals that will certainly have opposition.” In this category, Goodman pointed to the governor’s call for a cap on non-economic damages in lawsuits.
“I think a child’s life is absolutely worth more than $250,000 to a family when lost because of physicians’ neglect or mistake,” Goodman said. “How can you put a price on the loss of a loved one? And as for education, this will be the department to watch. With the legislature working to strip the Board of Education of its powers, Superintendent [Janet] Barresi will have a virtual dictatorship with 35 percent of the state’s budget.”