Oklahoma Senate Select Committee on Business Retention and Economic Development holds first meeting

Oklahoma City — Republicans dominate a newly-created Select Committee, reflecting the composition of the upper chamber in the Oklahoma State Senate. The panel’s first meeting was held this week.

Ten Republicans and two Democrats are serving on the new committee. All of the members agreed to a request from Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, to join the select committee. Republicans have a 40-8 majority in the upper chamber of the Legislature. The President of the Senate, under constitutional provisions, is Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, a Republican. He can cast a ballot in the event of tie votes in the chamber, but that has not been necessary in the modern era of GOP dominance of the Oklahoma government.

The two Democrats the current pro tempore selected for the new select committee are both from Oklahoma City, located in Oklahoma County, the state’s most heavily-populated county. Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties are the metropolitan centers where the Democratic party remains competitive with the Republicans.

Historically, Democrats dominated the Oklahoma Legislature from statehood (1907) until the era 2004-2010, when a methodical shift toward Republicans accelerated. (Note: In the early 1920s, the GOP — Grand Old Party — held a majority in the state House, but Democrats returned to control and retained it for decades after that.) From 2011 to the present, Republicans have dominated the state government’s elective offices.

As noted in the press release announcing the formation of the Select Committee last week, “A Senate select committee can only be made up of senators, giving it subpoena power and the ability to compel witnesses.”

The press release sent by Treat’s staff indicated that he and members are “prepared to dig into every aspect of Oklahoma’s issues surrounding workforce development, expansion and business attraction.”

The Senate Pro Temp said at that time: “I look forward to our bipartisan group of senators working together as we figure out ways to be more attractive to businesses looking to expand or relocate. Although some of the processes may not be pleasant to hear, I want those presenting to the committee to tell us what our downfalls are and where we are coming up short.“

This needs to be an honest conversation to see where changes need to be made to propel Oklahoma into a true competitor on a global scale. We also want to know what we can do to help local businesses and those entrepreneurs who risk it all on a dream they have to own a small business.

“I am also encouraged by the outpouring of support from Oklahomans that have reached out to my office who want to be involved. I anticipate one of the committee’s first actions being a discussion of an advisory council that will run parallel to the committee’s work. This will allow for a more diverse selection of business leaders and overall participation.”

After the first meeting of the Select Committee, two legislative Democrats provided to reporters (including CapitolBeatOK.com) their reflections.

Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, released the following statements about the initial meeting.

Senator Floyd said, “I think this group has a lot of potential to do beneficial work for our state. However, its success will depend on the committee’s willingness, to be honest with ourselves about the challenges facing Oklahoma, and not cherry-pick the facts based on what we want to hear. We will have to ask hard questions and may not like all the answers.

“We must be willing to make changes that we may not be immediately comfortable with.”

Sen. Kirt commented, “I was glad to hear so many of our colleagues share our concerns about over-reliance on tax incentives as a business recruitment tool. We know that our current tax burden and incentives are very competitive and that employers look at other metrics like quality of life and a qualified workforce when making decisions.

“We should be seeking job development opportunities that come with high wages and competitive benefits. Our obligation is to Oklahoma residents.”

Members of the Senate Select Committee, Business Retention and Economic Development

Senator Chuck Hall, RPerry

Sen. Kristen Thompson, R-Edmond

Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City

Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow

Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton

Sen. Jerry Alvord, R-Wilson

Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair

Sen. Cody Rogers, R-Tulsa

Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond

Sen. Roland Pederson, R-Burlington

Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City

Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City

Pro Tem Treat and Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, are serving as ex-officio members.

Note: This article is adapted and updated from a ‘staff report’ first published at City-Sentinel.com. CapitolBeatOK.com, founded by Pat McGuigan in 2009, is an independent, non-partisan and locally-managed news service based in Oklahoma City.