Coffee reflects on challenging past week, looks ahead
By Patrick B. McGuigan
Early in this week’s scheduled encounter with the Capitol press corps, Sen. Coffee quipped, “Well, it’s four weeks down and 13 to go — not that anyone is counting.”
In prepared remarks and in exchanges with participating journalists at the session late Thursday morning (February 25), Coffee dealt with the full range of proposed legislation still alive at the Legislature. He praised bipartisan majorities that approved measures, on Wednesday, to limit the reach of proposed federal health care legislation.
Concerning perhaps the biggest news story of the week at the state Capitol, Coffee said “scandal” is an apt description for the Skiatook school audit results revealed by state Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage on Tuesday.
Sen. Coffee said Burrage “has a point” in expressing frustration over lack of funding to implement the small school audit authority he gained last year. “I agree with the auditor that is a problem.” Coffee noted the auditor’s office gets paid back for audits where he is called in by the attorney general or other competent authorities. Coffee said resources for the small school audits were an area “we hope to address in the future.”
CapitolBeatOK asked Coffee about the transparency project of Oklahomans for Responsible Government, in the context of the Skiatook scandal. Skiatook was among the least transparent school districts in the group’s most recent analysis of public school accountability. Coffee reflected, “We’ve got a lot of great superintendents, but they work for school boards. The public should have the kind of information they need to keep informed on school spending issues. I agree with OFRG. With information, school boards can make informed decisions.”
On another topic touching the auditor’s office, Coffee said the request of legislative leaders for an audit of the troubled Medical Examiner’s office was described by Burrage as “a first.” Coffee complimented Burrage for moving “with dispatch” on the issue.
In a discussion of budget issues, Coffee revealed the Department of Mental Health had not made known to him its needs for a supplemental appropriation. He also said the agency had received “very significant increases” in recent years, and that he was not sure a supplemental appropriation was justified at this point. Coffee expressed more sympathy for District Attorneys facing budget challenges.
Looking ahead to the coming week, Coffee said the Senate would move toward final consideration of House Appropriations bills Monday and Tuesday.
Coffee told reporters that 558 measures have made it out of committee and onto the Senate floor, reflecting the intense pace of legislative action. While the legislative pace is always somewhat frenetic, this year’s session has been intensified by a revenue crunch widely characterized as the worst since the Great Depression.