Patrick B. McGuigan
From interviews and an editor’s notebook: Capitol repairs may trigger a major bond issue, Second Amendment advocates remain hopeful for passage of Open Carry, a local university president’s portrait will be unveiled in Denver, and a beloved basketball star is displaying his art works under the dome.
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The range of state Capitol repairs -- and the extent of a possible bond issue to finance those repairs – continues to engage many legislators as they consider income tax reform ideas.
The bond issue is inevitably becoming tied in with spending in general, and possible income tax reductions in particular.
In a brief interview Tuesday (May 8), House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Earl Sears, a Bartlesville Republican, said the total amount being considered for Capitol repairs is $160 million to perhaps $200 million. He said the total would probably be divided into three to five years. He confirmed for CapitolBeatOK that “$50 million a year” is a reasonable figure, but stressed “nothing has been settled yet.”
Governor Mary Fallin called for repairs to the state Capitol in her State of the State address, specifying she supported a bond issue for that purpose without naming an amount.
Legislative leaders have indicated likely support for such a bond, but the possible range of annual costs has varied widely. The widely heard figure has been $50 million annually over several years, but in some cases that annualized figure has been higher.
About the only thing everyone agrees on is that major repairs are needed for the exterior of the south side of the building, structural work on the building’s base and a renewed push for modernization of plumbing and fixtures. The governor and legislators have had long sessions with the Capitol architect and others as they have deliberated on the possible expenditure.
Last week, in his weekly encounter with reporters, including CapitolBeatOK, House Speaker Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican, stressed that the only bond proposal under serious consideration for was the Capitol repairs.
He has repeatedly and rather directly said that House members do not support bonds to help finish the American Indian Museum and Culture Center in Oklahoma City and to build a pop culture museum in Tulsa.
Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, a Claremore Democrat, is making some critical negative noises about any possible bond, asserting an increase in debt would be irresponsible in a time when government finances and tight reduced revenues (in the form of lower taxes) are under consideration.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, a Del City Democrat, contends the Legislature should avoid any tax cuts, and use $120 million in direct appropriations to start the Capitol repairs, avoiding a bond issue entirely.
Among Republicans, many advocates of tax reduction echo Democrats in one sense – saying it would be better to pay for repairs from state government’s cash flow rather than with a bond issue.
Republican leaders have huddled frequently over the last few work days in Sears’ office, clearly focused on the range of tax reduction possibilities, and construction of the required annual balanced budget.
Concerning taxes, “conventional wisdom” in the halls of the Capitol (sometimes borne out by events, but sometimes not) is projecting just enough of an income tax cut to get the current 5.25 percent top rate under 5 percent by year’s end.
Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond, a key Republican in the upper chamber and an ally of Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, has been in regular deliberations with Sears.
Greater clarity on the extent of tax cuts, budget restraint (or lack thereof), possible bond spending and further government efficiency mandates is likely to emerge late this week or early next.
Meanwhile, the income tax phase out concept will get a boost during Dr. Arthur Laffer’s involvement in a major debate on tax policy, scheduled for Wednesday (May 9).
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The Oklahoma Second Amendment Association (OK2A) is hopeful that the Legislature will soon complete action on Senate Bill 1733, sending the measure to Governor Mary Fallin for her signature. Gun rights groups joined forces this week for a rally at the second floor rotunda of the state Capitol.
OK2A’s Tim Gillespie told CapitolBeatOK on Tuesday (May 8) the group has worked for years to become effective working to advance the rights of gun owners. S.B. 1733 would make Oklahoma the nation’s 43rd Open Carry state.
Among other provisions, the legislation would recognize a right to carry firearms on personal property, and relax SDA (self defense act) notification of police from “first contact” to “first opportunity,” so that, OK2A says, “a citizen isn’t possibly put in a position to have to interrupt a police officer to fulfill the requirement.”
S.B. 1733 would “ensure that employers cannot keep an employee from keeping their firearm and ammo locked in their vehicle while at work.” Under the proposed law, carry permits could be mailed to qualified applications so they do not have to take time off work to pick up permits. The measure also limits use of emergency powers to attempt weapons’ confiscation.
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Former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Robert Henry will be honored at the U.S. Courthouse in Denver on Wednesday (May 9), when his portrait is unveiled. Judge David Ebel will unveil the portrait and Henry, now president of Oklahoma City University, will respond. The picture was painted by Mike Wimmer, OCU’s artist in residence, who has two previous portraits hanging at the Byron White Courthouse.
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One of the most popular basketball players in Oklahoma history, Desmond Mason, is exhibiting paintings in the Capitol’s East Gallery through July 1. The presentation called “Generation Next: Chapter 1” opened April 30.
Mason majored in studio art at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, where he played for Coach Eddie Sutton. He went on to a brief career in the National Basketball Association, playing for several teams, including the Hornets (during their Oklahoma City sojourn) and for the inaugural versions of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The East Gallery is open weekdays 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and weekends 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Oklahoma Arts Council is sponsoring the Mason exhibition.