Community members present included: Mayor David Webb, Chamber Chair Rick Vernon, City Clerk Deb Davis, Commissioner Marty Clinton, County Treasurer Renee Howard, County Clerk Christi Hair, County Assessor Gerald Sherrill Jr., and County Clerk candidate Robin Booker.
Sen. Mike Schulz opened his presentation with thanks to Charles Ortega. Schulz explained that the House of Representatives has a group of people who frequently stall progress on bills, causing consternation. He congratulated Ortega for being able to deal with that faction in the House.
Schulz explained they passed a basically flat budget. Two departments did receive more funding than usual. The Department of Transportation received more funding to help play catch up for not investing in the state’s roads and bridges for 20 years. No bonds were passed this year, even those that seemed to be needed, like repairs on the state capitol.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) received more funds due to having to comply with the requirements of a large lawsuit. Ortega would elaborate during his address.
All else with the budget remained status quo, without big cuts to agencies. The $2 natural gas prices are hurting the state, since much of gross production is based on gas, in addition to crude oil prices. If the gas price falls lower, that will severely affect gross production funds for the state, Schulz remarked.
One of Schulz area’s of concentration has been to get more Primary Care Physicians primarily for rural Oklahoma. He said we need 1,400 more PCPs, 18 per county. If students graduating from medical schools can’t find the residency slots here, they will go elsewhere and not come back to rural parts of the state. This process of adding more residency slots will take years, but the pay-off will be worth it, Schulz said.
Meth is a big problem on our state. Enhanced tracking of prescriptions and medications that can be used in meth production mean we have to go the doctor for cold medicine. This is extra effort but worth it in the long run. He foresees when taking care of meth addicts will be a huge problem in society.
Schulz told Commissioner Marty Clinton that they’d passed the County Roads Bill which will give a two percent increase of the vehicle tax money to help fund roads. It’s a step in the right direction, he remarked.
Water is a huge deal in Oklahoma. “Our state isn’t water deficient,” Schulz said, “it’s just not plentiful in the right areas.” Water quality is also an issue.
The income tax rate had about three or four plans out there, but it didn’t pass. “If it’s cut, we must do it responsibly,” Schulz said.
Both Schulz and Ortega see a bright future for the Burns Flat Space Port. There are four new board members and the Governor is interested in the port. Robert Cox, from Altus is involved.
Charles Ortega said that people in Tulsa and OKC may not understand some of the attributes SW Oklahoma has to offer. Ortega sees that SWOK has an opportunity to contribute qualified people to many boards in our state.
He thanked the audience for helping give him an opportunity to serve our community. He’s made it through another session, he said with resolve.
Ortega said they are rethinking some things at the capitol, like national board certification for teachers. It all looks and sounds good until they have to pay for it.
Career tech received $1.4 million and higher ed, $10 million in funding. The Department of Public Safety received $5 million to help, among other things, keep the trooper academy going.
The Medical Examiners Office is housed in an antiquated building at best, Ortega remarked. The bond for a new facility failed. “They have a good director in there now,” Ortega said, “a new facility will be very important.”
The DHS lawsuit brought against the department by a child advocacy group is just one of three filed against DHS. The DHS commission was founded in 1936 and Ortega said that the head commissioner answers to no one. One of the results of the lawsuit is a proposed citizen panel of volunteers to have oversight and hold DHS to accountability. There are 8,000 children in state custody in foster homes. There haven’t been enough workers or foster homes. These deficiencies will be changing, Ortega said.
The legislature passed an increase for the Strategic Military Planning Commission for the state’s five military installations.
There were 33 bills on Achieving Classroom Excellence. Students can file appeals to the State Board of Education if they find themselves not eligible for their diplomas, Ortega said. For more information on ACE, see: “http://ok.gov/sde/achieving-classroom-excellence-act-ace”.