Of the bills I carried on your behalf, only one remains unfinished: a measure to strengthen enforcement of the sales tax exemption for veterans with a 100-percent service-connected disability.
Now, six years after the exemption became law, some retailers still refuse to honor this benefit veterans earned by giving almost that “last full measure of devotion.”
The final agreement on the bill is in place; Senate Bill 1321 should be ready for final votes in the Senate and House early this week. Before it goes to the governor, I would encourage those few retailers still refusing to honor this law to rapidly reconsider that position; the bill will contain serious penalties for retailers who do not follow the law.
Of course, the largest item of unfinished business – the Legislature’s most important responsibility – is the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The worldwide economic slowdown has chilled economic activity in Oklahoma, driving down tax collections.
We have $1.2 billion less to spend on critical state services than we did last year. There will be significant cuts across the spectrum of services provided by the state.
My priorities are fairly straightforward: protect to the greatest degree possible public education, public safety, the social safety net, and our ability to grow the economy. In the end, however, a budget must reflect the values of the people it serves. I absolutely reserve the right to vote “no” on any budget proposal that does not, in my judgment, meet that critical test.
Finally, this week, the continuing battle to protect southeastern Oklahoma’s water resources also is looming. A backroom deal is being finalized that would have the state sell Sardis Lake near Clayton to Oklahoma City.
Under this deal, Oklahoma City gets the lake and its water; the state would get the money from the sale. Those pushing the deal will say it is necessary so the state can repay its debt to the federal government for building Sardis Lake. We should not be fooled; there are other ways to repay the debt that do not involve plundering rural Oklahoma.
The proposed sale would strip an important resource from a rural area and leave the residents of that area with virtually nothing in exchange.
Southeastern Oklahoma would lose even access to a critical resource and get no money for economic growth, no money for infrastructure improvement – no way to help build our future.
I doubt the battle will end before the Legislature adjourns in May.
Even so, you may rest assured that the lawmakers who represent southeastern Oklahoma will do everything possible to protect the interests of those we represent on this, one of the most critical issues for our long term interests.
Thanks for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.