Senator Mike Schulz and House Representative Charles Ortega spoke at the Legislative Luncheon at Western Oklahoma State College on Friday. The event was hosted by the Altus Kiwanis Club and Altus Chamber of Commerce. The legislators spoke about the latest activity at the State Capitol.
Senator Schulz was the first to address the luncheon audience. He began by commenting on the stressful nature of the final weeks leading up to the end of the legislative session.
“We’re at the time of the year when tempers get short and things start to go sideways at the Capitol. It’s the time of year where we get a little upset with our colleagues in the House, and the colleagues in the House get a little upset with us in the Senate because things aren’t getting heard, or somebody said this, or somebody said that.” Regardless, both sides will have to agree on their proposed ideas within the next six weeks, he explained.
Among several topics, the congressman spoke about closing in on an agreeable budget between the House and the Senate. A proposed budget includes consideration for common education and higher educational needs, improving the Department of Corrections employee turnover, and tax cut proposals. Senator Schulz spoke about funding for Oklahoma State University Medical Center, to give the school a more secure footing, and placing it on a path toward a bright future, and to “continue to be a very key part of Oklahoma’s medical system.”
The budget will also include necessary repairs to the State Capitol building. The Senate prefers to bond the project and take advantage of low interest rates, and get the project done as a whole, versus the House who prefers a “pay as you go” approach.
“We’d like to get this thing secured, do it all under one contract, and get it fixed for the next 50 years or so, so our people who succeed us won’t have to worry about it for a long time,” Senator Schulz said.
Following Senator Schulz, Representative Ortega began with a reference to a study called “The Report Card for Oklahoma’s Infrastructure,” done within the past few years. In the report, aviation received a “C+,” bridges a “D+,” dams a “D,” levies a “D-,” rail systems a “B,” roads a “D,” transit system a “D,” and water and waste water a “D+.”
“In terms of what we need to do, we still got a lot of work to do,” Ortega stated. “We’ve increased funding for our bridges and we’re addressing those. The problem with it is we have a lot of work that needs to be done and very little money to do it with. As we go though this budget process and try to accommodate those areas that we want to increase funding in, we still have a responsibility to the entire state to address some of these failing systems that we have.”
Ortega expressed the concern for taking out bonds to fix the Capitol Building. The House consensus is that costs will escalate far beyond necessary if using bonds to pay for Capitol repairs. “I don’t know on the house side we would be totally opposed to a bond issue. The approach we take is, if it needs repair then find the money to do it,” Oretga added. Although some on the House side may agree to a bond issue, especially with low market interest rates, “the desire is still to try to go on a cash basis, to note the needs there, you pay for it, you get it done, you move on to the next project.”
“Of course you take into account the $1.2 billion in funding requests that we’ve got out there, and 217 million in excess monies that we have, there’s a lot to try and come up with a common sense result.” But the need is there to do something with the Capitol Building he explained and will likely be a first priority, he explained.
Representative Ortega also spoke about workers compensation, educational funding, common core, hospital funding, and development of an Indian Cultural center.
The last Legislative Luncheon is scheduled for June 13, for a final update of legislative progress at the State Capitol.