The Altus Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Kiwanis Club, held their first Legislative Luncheon of the year Friday. State Representative Charles Ortega was on hand at the Western Oklahoma State College Student Center to talk to the group and answer questions.
There was a very large number of Altus residents, schools administrators, business leaders and civic group representatives at the event.
Ortega said the most pressing and difficult topic at the Capitol right now is the budget. Many things contribute to the State’s shortfall. One attribute is the 75 percent to 80 percent Gross Production Tax which the state heavily depends on, as well as layoffs and a decline in other taxes. Ortega said in year 2008, Oklahoma had a stimulus fund, but today there is no stimulus, so we have to search for other alternatives.
“Legislature is reviewing sales tax,” said Ortega. “One possibility is taxing goods and services that haven’t been taxed before, and studying a very long list of sales tax exemptions, tax credits and tax incentives.”
A breakfast meeting earlier this week, Ortega said that Governor Mary Fallin expressed her concern on tax credits to the legislature.
“Legislature is dissecting and taking a hard look at possible reforms and reductions,” said Ortega. “Fallin mentioned the states economic development, and said other states are committed to their incentive packages. Many of our tax incentives aren’t as productive as we first thought. A review of those incentives are now needed, and possibly placed elsewhere.” Ortega said companies have stated that because of Oklahoma’s instability on tax incentives, they must know our states plans before relocating.
Ortega said he will review and redirect any of the tax incentives he supported, if needed. “Legislature must be careful in bonding and recapturing those funds,” said Ortega, “and filling a gap, because results could end up needing to refill the same hole next year. There is a lot of hard work and discussion at the capital and its still very early in session. Many bills will die and not make it to the floor.”
Ortega and Senator Shultz meet weekly to discuss bills, and in what direction to steer bodies to make Oklahoma stronger. Ortega said that 760 bills were filed on the Senate side and 200 were carried over, the House filed 700 bills including resolutions with 100 bills carried over.
Every member of legislature has a different issue and impact. Ortega said a unique action of the Budget Chairman is meeting once a week with all legislatures, allowing them a chance to voice their opinion, something never been done before.
At the meeting, Ortega also stressed that he will always support public education. “Parents know their children best, and should have the right to choose what’s best for their kids.” He stressed that whatever way you look at it, however you want to manage it, or fund it, “the bottom line is what is most important, and best for our kids.”
Former Representative David Braddock was at the meeting and praised Ortega for standing up and having a strong attitude for what he believed in, and what was the right move to take.
Ortega ended the luncheon by saying, “My first responsibility is to God, and second is to the people I represent. Senator Shultz and I will continue to work hard to do the best for our state and especially for the people of Southwest Oklahoma.”
Reach Mary O. Esparza at 580-482-1221, ext. 1277