A column By Governor Mary Fallin
At the beginning of the 2014 Legislative Session, I asked our lawmakers to work with me to build on the considerable momentum we have helped to create in Oklahoma. That momentum includes:
· Over 90,000 new jobs created since 2011 and a reduction of the unemployment rate from over 7 percent in 2010 to just 4.6 percent today
· Per capita income growth of 6.3 percent from 2011 to 2013, the second-highest growth rate in the nation during that time period and
· The restoration of the Rainy Day fund, which went from broke ($2.03 in 2011, to be exact) to a high over $570 million
We have achieved these results through hard work and a commitment to fiscally conservative, pro-growth policies as well as the elimination of government waste. When Washington tried to push irresponsible, costly policies down our throats – like Obamacare's unaffordable Medicaid expansion – we stood with the people of Oklahoma and loudly told President Obama, "No."
I am proud to say that 2014 was a productive legislative session that continues to build on that previous good work. Some of the highlights include:
Lower taxes for families and businesses:
This year I signed into law a responsible, measured income tax cut that will save families an average of $158 per year once fully implemented and return over $200 million annually to the private sector. Reducing the income tax rate in Oklahoma makes our state more competitive and able to attract good jobs, something that is especially important as neighboring states continue to reduce taxes.
I also signed a continuation of a key tax incentive program that reduces costs for oil and gas companies drilling new wells in Oklahoma. That incentive will continue to make our state the best place in the country for the energy industry, which supports one in four Oklahoma jobs, to operate and invest in.
A conservative budget that cuts bureaucracy while increasing resources for education:
The budget passed this year is a responsible, balanced budget that closes a $188 million budget shortfall by making necessary cuts while still adequately funding state government.
While many agencies will receive cuts, the budget delivers a much needed $80 million funding increase for K-12 education, getting more money into the classroom and funding reforms that will improve accountability and boost student performance. With that increase in resources, K-12 public schools have now received more than $154 million in the past two years, more than any other area of government during my administration.
Better compensation for public employees
It is no secret that many state employees are underpaid, making it hard to recruit and retain qualified workers, and ultimately eroding the quality of service for taxpayers. To begin addressing that problem, this year's budget includes $36.8 million in pay raises for over 12,300 state employees, including corrections workers, state Highway Patrol troopers, and child welfare workers. It also includes raises for the state's most underpaid employees, as identified by the state's recent comprehensive employee compensation study.
Addressing pay disparities is only half the solution when it comes to state employees; we also need to address the state's fiscally unstable pension system. With $11 billion in unfunded liabilities and a stagnant, mid-20th century model in place, today's pension system was threatening to collapse under its own weight, jeopardizing the promises the state has made to our current employees and retirees. To fix that, I signed a bill to move future hires to the 401K-style pension model commonly used in the private sector. The new system will offer employees more portable and flexible retirement benefits while getting the state back on sound fiscal footing.
I'm excited about the direction our state is headed in, and I'm proud that the 2014 legislative session continued to push us in the right direction. Oklahoma has always been a strong, caring community; and we are providing our families and businesses with more and better opportunities to flourish each and every day.