Bingman’s modest agenda grows more complex as session advances
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Published: 15-Feb-2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman has a modest “short list” of priorities, described in a recent interview with CapitolBeatOK.
 
As the legislative session goes on, of course, the discussion over particulars grows more complex. The Sapulpa Republican is pressing at least one measure that could provide contentious, and that is the upper chamber’s agenda to shift Oklahoma’s litigation-oriented workers compensation system toward an administrative structure.
 
Bingman has said for months that workers’ comp reform is the number one priority for him and for members of his caucus. The Senate version will be unveiled Monday, Feb. 18. Democrats are expected to oppose the idea in both chambers, but with strong Republican majorities in both houses the result will likely be determined in the GOP ranks.
 
On Feb. 14, in his weekly meeting with members of the Capitol press corps, Bingman said pay increases for state government employees were unlikely in the near term, but were possible “in the future.”
 
Concerning education funding – identified as his second priority – this week he sounded cautious notes but indicated a boost is funding is likely. He observed that every year, agency wish lists “are hundreds of millions of dollars over what we have available.” The objective is “maximize the dollars we have and put them where we have the most need.” He specified an objective to put education dollars “in the classroom.”
 
Now in his third year as the top Senate leader, Bingman said in the pre-session CapitolBeatOK interview that education funding -- “i.e. funding of the reforms passed over the last couple of years” – was his second top agenda item.
 
He said, “I am hoping we can support the governor on her program to encourage more college graduates. We must structure our system to take advantage wisely of our state’s great natural resources; and to help improve our workforce.
 
“The education system is asking for more, so we hope to get more accountability and make sure that we are teaching what needs to be taught. We’ll be taking another look at the testing process.
 
“The third grade objective – that kids read at grade level by third grade – is important. You know there is a lot of remediation in our system. We need to make sure that dollars get into the classroom.”
 
Asked if enactment of reforms necessarily dictates increased sending, Bingman said, “I’m not necessarily saying we need to spend more money, but to have the money targeted to some of the reforms.”
 
Bingman listed his third priority as “tax reform, could be a tax cut. We’re a little more comfortable with tax reform that addresses some of the exemptions and credits, in order to free up resources.” 
 
Looking back at the 2012 session, when dramatic income tax reform was anticipated but never came to pass, Bingman told CapitolBeatOK, “On taxes, we might have been too aggressive. We want to be responsible and fund the state’s critical needs.”
 
He continued, “As I look at the 2 percent increase that everyone experienced, when that tax went back on the federal payroll tax, it would be nice to give relief of some sort to Oklahoma’s taxpayers. Now, how far we can go on that depends on some of the exemptions and credits and whether those are addressed. Sen. [Mike] Mazzei would like to cut income taxes and also reform the entitlements and exemptions.”
        
Just days after Bingman’s comments, a House committee killed state Rep. David Dank’s proposal to press for reforms of exemptions and credits, meaning Mazzei’s version of tax reform might be the best vehicle available to press for changes. 
 
Bingman touched briefly on the state budget process, and the Senate’s role in it. He reflected, “When it comes to the budget, everyone seems to talk about how ‘lean and mean’ we’ve been in spending lately. I want to do a better job in the budget reviews of the agencies. How much do we really need to finance government?
 
“Using performance audits to press for accountability and better performance may bring us some savings down the line. I do not want to grow our government. I think the pattern of having tax cuts every year or couple of years is a way to keep people here. We need more taxpayers, not higher taxes.”
 
Bingman listed a fourth priority in the interview, namely “to finance infrastructure, roads and bridges adequately. Also, I support the speaker’s initiative regarding the franchise tax, to give relief to our companies and keep them in the state.”
 
Asked about the justice reinvestment initiative – which aims to redirect criminal justice resources to flatten, over time, increases in incarceration rates, Bingman commented, “I think it’s a good piece of legislation. The supervision that is required in the system is an issue.
 
“I recognize we need to help our Corrections personnel. One of the things happening is that the private sector, the oil and gas industry, is hiring away a lot of our corrections officers. I want to retain good employees, in general, in state government, and that is part of that challenge.”

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

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