The Altus Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis hosted their second Legislative Luncheon on the campus of Western Oklahoma State College on Friday.
State Representative Charles Ortega was the first to speak at Friday’s Legislative Luncheon that was sponsored by the Altus Chamber of Commerce and the Altus Kiwanis Club. Ortega said, “We continue to work on the state’s budget. Collections continue to decline. A major contributor is the gross production tax from Oklahoma’s major industry, oil and gas. The residual affects are layoffs, companies closing doors, and loss of those extended taxes like sales tax, etc.” he said.
Ortega went on to say, “We continue to review all available revenue resources to determine what is available for the state to utilize. Resources include apportionments, sales tax, exemptions, income tax deductions and tax credits. Others are also under review. As we proceed we will be faced with very tough decisions to make.”
“Education has always been and will be high on the priority list,” said Ortega. “We are trying to minimize cuts to education, but to be able to do that means deeper cuts will have to be implemented to other agencies. Over the past few years education funding has been maintained level while other agencies have experienced cuts ranging from 20 to 25 percent. So any further cuts will only mean at some point the public that depends on services the agencies provide will begin to experience some reduction in services. The Department of Human Services has put in motion voluntary buyouts. Approximately 300 of those have been accepted with another 150 expected. After that they will begin reducing employees. It is a very critical time and all agencies will have to make some very difficult decisions.This past week the House and Senate passed and the governor signed supplemental funding of $51 million for education and $27 million for the Department of Corrections. We will continue our work to establish a budget and continue moving legislation forward. Several issues yet to be considered moving through the process. Ortega ended saying as always please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns.”
Senator Mike Shulz began his address by saying, “A lot of people think that Legislature just started to look at the budget, but that is incorrect. Since last July the budget has been looked at. Like Charles said every week, we look at collections and the numbers and they continue to slide. Last December we cut all state agencies by three percent. We think that will be enough. We throw everything out on the table and heavy discussions begin. This past week I spoke with someone from Roger Mills County in reference to the wind industry, the county had generated $300 million dollars from wind revenue. Yes, the wind industry is new to Oklahoma, and we are learning more everyday. We must be very careful and send the wring signal to businesses that Oklahoma is closed for business. The modernization of alcohol is another subject being looked at thoroughly and action could be on the ballot in November.”
Both Ortega and Shulz spoke on internet sales tax and the growing momentum and its possibilities. “It would be a positive move to start to track transactions by zip code,” said Shulz. Both were in unison that it is a very tough year for the legislature, but with a lot of thought and prayer used, they will continue to try and solve the budget crisis.
Reach Mary O. Esparza, 580-482-1221, ext. 1277