By Sean Murphy
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahomans won’t see an income tax cut for another 18 months, but the bill that paves the way for the average Oklahoma tax filer to save about $80 per year in state income taxes is one of more than 70 bills that take effect on Monday.
The measure, a key part of Gov. Mary Fallin’s agenda and supported by Republican legislative leaders, also diverts $120 million in state income tax collections over the next two fiscal years to pay for a major overhaul of the nearly 100-year-old state Capitol that houses the Oklahoma Legislature and several other state agencies.
The first income tax cut takes effect in January 2015, dropping the top rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. A second cut to 4.85 percent is scheduled to take effect in 2016 if certain revenue collection triggers are met.
The bill calls for $60 million in income tax collections to be diverted from the state’s General Revenue fund in the fiscal year that begins Monday and another $60 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2014, to pay for repairs.
The building has been plagued for years with sewage and electrical problems, and access to the south side of the building has been blocked with bright yellow barricades to prevent pedestrians from walking beneath where pieces of the building’s limestone facade have fallen.
“The Capitol building is an important symbol of our state and the plan I signed into law will provide the necessary funding to repair and restore the people’s house,” Fallin said in a statement.
A separate bill that also goes into effect on Monday calls for the creation of a new nine-member Long-Range Capital Planning Commission to oversee the repairs to the Capitol. The panel also will be charged with developing an eight-year plan to address the needs of other state assets, including recommending certain state properties that should be liquidated.
Once the panel is appointed, one of its first orders of business will be to commission a detailed plan for the repair and renovation of the Capitol that will include a list of priorities, said John Estus, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
“There are safety hazards throughout the building, inside and out, and those issues need to be addressed first,” Estus said. “Once we address those, we can start talking about some of the other needs from a historic restoration standpoint.”
Estus said the Capitol renovation plan will go ahead, despite a legal challenge of the bill by an Oklahoma City attorney who claims in a court filing that the measure violates a provision of the state constitution that prohibits a bill from addressing more than one subject. A Supreme Court hearing in that case is scheduled for July 9.
“The bottom line is we’ll be implementing the law as it’s written, regardless of the court issue,” Estus said.
While the massive overhaul of the Capitol likely is months away, several renovations of the building are ongoing.
The House and Senate are using part of a $7 million increase in appropriations to renovate office space and conference rooms on the second, third and fifth floors of the building.
Among the other bills scheduled to take effect on July 1 are several school safety measures passed in the wake of last year’s deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn. One of the new laws establishes a school safety institute within the state’s Homeland Security Office to provide training for schools and police. The others slightly modify existing laws that require schools to run intruder drills, report all firearms found on campus and share their emergency plans with local emergency responders.
The proposals came from a committee convened by Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb to study school security after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.
Other bills that take effect provide for the appropriation of state funds to various state agencies, exempt canoes from registration and excise taxes, and increase the penalties for littering and cutting or damaging fences.
Beekeepers who produce less than 500 gallons of honey annually will be exempted from state inspections after July 1 if they meet certain requirements, while new school board members will be required to receive 12 hours of education on legal issues.