This year was a budget-dominated year, according to Schulz. The projected ten percent, or higher, cuts have now hovered around seven and a half percent. But, the State is spending $6.8 billion, with only $5.4 billion revenue slated. Will enough revenue be found to round out the other $1.4 billion? Schulz doubts that.
One of the revenue sources is the vending machine decal program. Vending machine owners are supposed to purchase decals in lieu of collecting State sales tax. These decals have been $50 for the year. Now they will be $150 annually. But renewing these decals is not enforced for lack of personnel. Schulz thinks even fewer decals will be sold at triple the price, therefore generating less revenue.
Submitting early sales taxes electronically used to net a savings to businesses, but not anymore. In fact, with the forecast of being $800 million short next year, the State will hire more people to check on late tax payments, Schulz said.
"Next year will be very difficult...Maybe by (20)13 we'll be through cutting," Schulz predicted.
The legislature has pushed through several bills concerning Workers' Comp reform, including a confirmation process for judges and modifying their distribution; changing requirements on injuries; finding light duty for injured employees; and sending more cases to mediation.
In education, a bill has reduced the affect of virtual students on average daily attendance. With budget cuts, some district mandates have been eased for two years.
"Wind energy is the brightest shining star in Oklahoma," Schulz said. A land owner's bill of rights has passed to insure that defunct wind energy companies will have to restore the land. Schulz's own bill on uniting wind and surface rights passed sooner than he thought it would. Oklahoma will continue to move forward in renewable energy. Eventually wind energy potential will "explode" on the energy scene.
Schulz will be on the redistricting committee where he will be dealing with Senate district lines. This process happens every ten years, based on the results of the U.S. Census.
Charles Ortega said he's enjoyed the second session of the legislature more than his "roller coaster" first session. He's learned that "State government doesn't move very fast." He's become one of many who are asking why things must always be done in a traditional fashion.
Tax credits come in handy for revitalization, but they need a lot more oversight. Ortega told the audience that the electric car tax credit ends July 1. Manufacturers will still receive a tax credit, but not those who purchase them.
In education, districts are doing the best they can to provide for the future, for kids, business, towns, government. Sometimes "it's not what you have but how you spend it," Ortega said. Some of the districts may be "making some decisions that should have been made before."
The stabilization fund should help rebuild the rainy day fund. It is based on oil and gas tax revenues. Ortega said that if Oklahoma had done this earlier, it would help our current situation.
The State is maintaining transportation funding. They are giving counties the ability to address emergency projects quicker.
Oklahoma has become a hub for honor flights for veterans. They have helped locate and transport WWII veterans to Washington, DC, to see the WWII memorial.
Five million dollars have been found to keep the nutrition centers going. These funds were found by the Department of Human Services (DHS) in their budget. DHS has huge challenges. The ability to find these funds was amazing. There have been no furloughs and provider contracts will still exist. Services are still intact, at this point.
As Ortega thinks about this next year, he wonders if Oklahoma has "postponed the inevitable". It's a very serious situation to have less than $5.4 billion and be spending $6.7 billion. "The $800 million (in stimulus and rainy day funds) to plug the hole isn't there."
"Oklahoma will come out on top," Ortega said. "One day we'll be making decisions on where to spend the surplus funds. We need to hold ourselves accountable to make good decisions."