Improved public schools, an unemployment tax cut and a moratorium on hog and poultry farms will be among the top items on the Senate agenda when the 1998 Oklahoma Legislature convenes for its regular session on February 2nd. Passing legislation that will keep Oklahoma's economy on track will be the biggest priority, according to the leader of the State Senate.
"We've been on quite an economic roll and the challenge is to not only sustain it, but enhance it. That's where our top initiatives are focused, whether its expanding our skilled work force by improving the public schools or helping the state business climate by reducing the business costs," said Senator Stratton Taylor.
"If we can do the things necessary to improve our economy and enhance the quality of life we already enjoy in Oklahoma, the session will be a success."
Items on the Senate agenda include:
"You really have to divide the agenda into two phases. First we have to meet current obligations; then we can look at initiatives for the future," said Senator Taylor.
Under the category of current obligations, the Senate leader pointed to truth-in-sentencing and the $1 billion highway program.
"Before we address anything else, we have to pay for additional prison beds to lock up more violent criminals and make an installment payment that will keep the concrete pouring on the road program. Those initiatives can't be delayed," said Senator Taylor.
Remaining growth revenue should be directed toward the state's most effective job creation tools, namely Oklahoma's public schools.
"The economic experts have consistently told us we have to put more resources into our public schools if we want to continue to succeed economically. That's not surprising considering the fact that we rank 47th in the country in what we spend on our school children," said Senator Taylor, pointing to a recent survey of Oklahoma economists which indicated education was a more effective method of promoting job growth than tax reductions.
The Senate leader was quick to point out a way to give businesses a tax cut without reducing the amount of funding available for investment in other state initiatives.
"The unemployment tax cut is certainly an attractive option because it gives money back to businesses without taking it from the pockets of school kids or out of the highway program."
On other issues, the Senate leader said the regulation of hog and poultry farming would also take center stage. Taylor has authored legislation that would place a one-year moratorium on the licensing of those facilities.
"Before any more licenses are approved, we really have to get a handle on this problem. I also think it's important for people to realize this isn't just a hog industry issue. Chicken producers will have to be addressed if we are going to have effective protection of our water supply," said Senator Taylor.
Additionally, the Senate will be exploring ways to offset a recent health insurance premium increase sustained by state employees.
"We're going to see what we can do to make the increase less of a burden to state employees," said Taylor.
The 1998 legislative session convenes Monday, February 2nd.