Governor, Speaker, Pro Temp announce accord on taxes, workers’ comp and infrastructure
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Published: 23-Apr-2013

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, and House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, have announced agreement and impending action on key legislative items, including income tax cuts, workers’ compensation reform and a plan to address long-term infrastructure needs. Three bills were identified as having the support of both the governor and majorities in the House and Senate.

The announcement on April 23 (Tuesday) fulfilled recurring hints over the past two weeks that the “Big Three” were nearing agreement on key elements in all three areas of policy they had identified as the “big ticket” items for the 2013 Legislature. 

House Bill 2032 would cut the top income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5.0 percent on January 1, 2015. It would cut the rate further, to 4.85 percent, on January 1, 2016.

However, the second cut is contingent on total revenue growth in FY 2016 being equal to or greater than the FY 2016 fiscal impact of a 0.15 percent tax cut. The bill also provides for a total of $120 million to fund repairs to the Oklahoma State Capitol.

While the most aggressive tax cut activists have questioned the reasoning for a delay in implementation, defenders of the state’s reliance on the income tax have challenged the wisdom of a projected $140 million annual revenue impact as the state continues to emerge from the aftermath of Recession.

Senate Bill 1062 reforms the workers’ compensation system in Oklahoma. According to the governor’s office, the measure will reduce legal costs, medical costs, and “excessive payouts to workers that have driven up costs for Oklahoma businesses and encouraged fraud.”

The measure will move Oklahoma from a litigation-based workers’ compensation system to an administrative system. Advocates contend this will reduce the adversarial nature of the system and reduce time needed to process claims.

Critics not only oppose the shift to an administrative system, they also contend that reforms enacted in recent legislative sessions have not a chance to take hold, and that creation of parallel workers’ comp systems will create confusion and delay.

House Bill 1910 creates a Pay-As-You-Go Infrastructure Plan and forms the Long-Range Capital Planning Commission which will first address the repair of the state Capitol and later develop an 8-year plan to address the state’s other maintenance issues.

The commission’s plan will create a system for maintenance to address the state’s needs without incurring unnecessary debt. It will also include recommendations on reallocation, reuse or liquidation of state properties.

Gov. Fallin said she looked forward to signing the measures into law, saying the announcement set the stage for a productive legislative session.

“My thanks go out to the Speaker and the Pro Tem for working together with my office on these important issues,” Fallin said. “Delivering a responsible, meaningful tax cut will boost our economy and help us to create more jobs and bring more businesses to Oklahoma. Likewise, overhauling our flawed workers’ comp system will reduce costs to employers and allow them to invest in jobs and growth rather than lawsuits.

“Finally, our long-term infrastructure improvement plan will ensure we are maintaining and improving state assets, rather than watching them deteriorate. Today’s announcement represents an exciting, important step forward for Oklahoma. I look forward to signing these three measures into law.”

Bingman said that workers’ compensation reform would address the state’s greatest obstacle to job growth.

“Today’s announcement shows our commitment to government that is smaller, simpler, and smarter,” said Pro Temp Bingman.  “Our broken workers’ compensation system is Oklahoma’s greatest obstacle to job growth, and I believe the time has finally come to put the brakes on our runaway costs.

“Moving to an administrative system will attract quality manufacturers back to Oklahoma, and together, our tax cut and workers’ compensation overhaul plans are an important step toward creating more certainty in Oklahoma’s business environment.

"Additionally, our long-range infrastructure plan shows a forward-thinking approach to good stewardship of taxpayer-owned assets. I am thankful for the leadership shown by Governor Fallin and Speaker Shannon as we have worked to craft agreements on issues of such importance to Oklahoma’s future.”

Shannon said the three bills would support Oklahoma growth and prosperity.

"Our offices have come together to ensure a better future for Oklahoma,” said Speaker Shannon. “These three crucial measures prove that the conservative leadership of this state is committed to government efficiency, reducing the tax burden and becoming better stewards of our citizen-funded infrastructure.

"Through implementing monumental workers’ comp reform, cuts in the personal income tax, and a Pay-As-You-Go infrastructure plan, we are moving forward with responsible policies that will produce growth and prosperity for the people of our great state. As I have said many times before, we will not go down the same path of Washington, D.C., by continuing an endless cycle of taxing, spending and borrowing against the future of our children.”

NOTE: Editor Pat McGuigan contributed to this report. 

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