NORMAN — U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s decision to vacate his seat two years early has thrown a curve into Oklahoma politics, with local lawmakers predicting some direct Capitol fallout during the state’s legislative session, which opens Monday.
“It’s just going to be a different flavor, different from the normal election year antics,” said state Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, who said the session might be more like a roller coaster than a train ride. “Our goal is to try and keep things as smooth as possible.”
Martin joined state Senators John Sparks, D-Norman, and Rob Standridge, R-Norman, at a Norman Chamber of Commerce legislative forum Friday morning at the Hilton Garden Inn. Sponsor was the chamber’s government affairs committee headed by local builder Curtis McCarty.
Martin said the decision by House Speaker T.W. Shannon to make a run at the U.S. Senate post could impact leadership. There is some push among lawmakers to have the Lawton Republican step aside during the campaign. Martin, chair of the powerful Appropriations and Budget committee, has been mentioned as a possible successor if Shannon resigns the post.
Although he didn’t mention that possibility to Chamber members, he was optimistic the state’s revenue picture could improve. Another revenue certification will be made in mid-February.
As it stands, estimates put the state at $171 million below the past year’s $7.1 billion budget. Last year’s budget included about $210 million in growth revenue.
“I’m hopeful we’ll be closer to even and those cuts will be less or none at all,” he said. “We’re growing and seeing success in certain areas.”
Standridge, a pharmacist, said he plans to continue working on prescription drug reform issues. “That issue has a lot of moving parts,” he said. He doesn’t want to restrict medical providers but also raised concern about the growing misuse of prescription drugs.
Additionally, he said better accountability of foster parents and pension reform are two issues he also will be involved with.
“Within the next few sessions we have to do something about it,” he said. “The unfunded liabilities are getting out of control.”
Like Martin, Sparks said the session would be interesting because of the shuffling for different elected positions and trickle down effect. The opening of the Fifth District Congressional seat will draw several incumbent politicians.
“It will be interesting to see legislators try and push pieces of legislation to get that last feather in their cap,” Sparks said.
He said funding the governor’s quick action closing fund for economic development will be a priority again this year. Education funding should also be a hot topic.
“On a percentage basis, our cuts to education were the largest in the country,” he said.
In response to a question about another push to lower the state’s personal income tax, Martin said the issue will be prominent on the session’s agenda.
“A lot of my colleagues are wanting to tap the brakes a little here,” he said. “It will get a significant amount of play and dialogue.”
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