Disappointments in the 2012 legislative session

To the editor: 

The 2012 session has drawn to a close.  It was, in a word, a disappointment.

The Legislature approved a $6.8 billion budget, which is 3.13 percent higher than last year’s budget.  Leadership has hailed it as protecting vital state services such as education, public safety, and transportation, but in reality these agencies simply got the same budget appropriation as last year. When you take into account how much products and services have risen in cost over the last year, it is not really an increase at all.

There were a lot of empty promises. Governor Fallin and Republican leadership in the House and Senate did not follow through on their pledge of reducing the income-tax rate. I was pleased they could not agree on this issue. The income tax is our third largest source of revenue. If it is cut, state agencies will suffer financially. I believe it is a poor sign of leadership to promise things that you cannot provide, as well as to propose ideas that do not benefit all Oklahomans.  

This year, we were asked to approve three bond issues to help fix the deteriorating state Capitol building and to help with the construction of two museums. This is how the Legislature has traditionally paid for the construction of new state buildings or extensive repairs, so I supported all three bills.  

A $40 million bond package was requested for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum (AICCM) in Oklahoma City. This facility is nearly complete, but the agency charged with running the center has run out of money to finish the construction. Under new leadership, the agency has raised an impressive $40 million in the last few months alone. Given our state’s rich tribal heritage, it is so important for us to get this museum completed and open for business so people around the country and world can learn about our history. It will greatly boost tourism for the state and Oklahoma City.  Unfortunately, the bill failed to pass the Senate.

A $20 million bond issue was also requested for the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture (OKPOP) in Tulsa. The bond was included in SB 1989, which passed the Senate 25-22 but was not given a hearing in the House. This project has not begun yet, but the Oklahoma Historical Society already has agreements for 90,000 square feet of land from the Bank of Oklahoma and with a number of famous Oklahoma entertainers for their memorabilia collections.  Oklahoma Historical Society Executive Director Bob Blackburn says that, once completed, OKPOP will bring in at least $1.3 million in sales-tax revenue alone each year.  This is another great tourism opportunity for our state, and we need to take advantage of it.  

Finally, the $200 million bond issue to repair and restore the century-old State Capitol building failed.  This is probably the worst thing to happen legislatively this year, as without immediate and drastic action the building may not be repairable, and employees’ health and visitors’ safety could be put at risk.  Limestone is falling off the building, and barricades have been placed around the entrance to protect visitors and employees from being hit with falling debris. Raw sewage is leaking up through the floors in the basement. The building’s plumbing and electrical wiring have not been significantly overhauled since 1917.  The wiring is a fire hazard and is inadequate to meet the needs of a 21st century working environment. It is estimated that all of the repairs to the Capitol building alone will cost around $160 million. This is an issue that must be tackled sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, the only answer that Republicans could come up with during this past session was “later.” 

That is not leadership.  Oklahomans deserve better. 

Senator Al McAffrey

Note: A Democrat from Oklahoma City, McAffrey serves state Senate district 46 at the state Capitol 


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