Hickman outlines efforts to counter earthquake surge, and state funding challenges

OKLAHOMA CITY – Members of the state Corporation Commission believe “they have the complete authority” to deal with the upsurge of seismic activity in the State.

In a briefing on Tuesday (January 19) Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman told reporters the commissioners indicated one essential pool of information that may require funding. Commission staff say they need real-time data on injection well volumes and locations from the state’s oil and gas drillers. 

That information is already provided to state officials but it is not part of a data base allowing ready access. Hickman said, during a press room briefing, that discussions have opened among the Corporation Commission staff, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Oklahoma (where USGS is housed). 

Speaker Hickman said members of the Republican Caucus have not discussed details  yet, but that he is certain the House will be “looking at the tax incentives and credits aggressively.” 

A special commission established to study the cost and wisdom of varied financial incentives for economic development was established in last year’s legislative session, fulfilling a long-time goal of the late Rep. David Dank, an Oklahoma City Republican who argued in favor of limitations on massive “give-backs.” 

While some voices in government contend a full-fledged moratorium on the credits might be wise, Hickman said that is not yet a policy goal for the Legislature.

Hickman told reporters he did not think it would be wise to access the state’s Rainy Day fund this year. He senses “there will be great hesitation to do that,” primarily because the state’s tax-collection challenges seem likely to worsen in Fiscal Year 2017, which begins in July. He said the House majority wants to be clear-eyed in the cycle when the crunch comes in several months.

However, in response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Hickman said opposition to a rainy day fund “raid” was not a formal GOP caucus position and might become a subject of discussion with Gov. Mary Fallin and Senate leadership.

Hickman believes education, which absorbs 51 percent of all appropriated state spending, might not be “held harmless” in this session as it has in past decision-making. 

For the balance of FY 2016, Hickman did not think furloughs of House staff would be forthcoming. He pointed out some staff is not returning to work this year, and that a cumulative $400,000 reduction in spending had already taken place. 

Hickman believes “the one area of government that might have a strong argument for a supplemental” appropriation is the Department of Corrections. He characterized it this way: “That situation is a true crisis.”

In discussion with CapitolBeatOK, the Speaker agreed on two significant steps that might be taken for the long-term. First, “get real” about the tax credits and incentives issue. “That buys time and resources at the back end of the process,” he observed. 

Second, accelerate corrections reform to jump-start long-term savings by ending over-incarceration of non-violent offenders.