BY BARBARA HOBEROCK
Gov. Mary Fallin asked lawmakers Monday to lower the state's top income tax rate to 5 percent from 5.25 percent.
She delivered a 50-minute State of the State address to the Legislature assembled in a joint session in the House chamber for the first day of the session.
"This proposal gives us the flexibility we need to ensure that we are reducing taxes responsibly, without starving government," Fallin said. "This is not the last tax cut we will see from my administration.
"I am serious about lowering taxes, and I will work to get our taxes even lower and to help us be more competitive as a state so that our neighbors to the north and to the south that have lower taxes than us won't be taking jobs from the state of Oklahoma."
The cost is expected to be $40.7 million in fiscal year 2014 and $105.8 million in fiscal year 2015. Growth revenue will be used to pay for the proposed cut, said Preston Doerflinger, state finance secretary.
Efforts to pass a highly touted cut in the personal income tax failed to get the needed support in the last session.
Fallin also wants to give common education an increase of $13.5 million to fund reforms in prior years, such as an A-F grading system for schools, requiring students to pass four out of seven end-of-instruction exams to graduate and holding back third-graders who can't read at grade level.
She also is proposing an $8.5 million supplemental funding request for common education to pay for teachers' health benefits, something requested by State Superintendent Janet Barresi. Barresi's total supplemental request was for $37.7 million, which included money to pay for funding reforms for the current fiscal year.
Fallin proposed spending $10 million immediately to begin needed repairs on the exterior of the Capitol and to fund an engineering study. The facility is plagued by structural, plumbing and electrical problems.
Lawmakers last session could not get the needed votes to pass a bond issue to pay for the repairs.
"The Capitol is a symbol of our state, a place of business, a living museum dedicated to preserving Oklahoma's history, its literature and its artwork," Fallin said. "It is not right for our visitors to come to the Capitol and see construction cones and barriers outside, to have crumbling facades from the top and a faulty sewer system that stinks."
Fallin proposed a nearly $51 million funding increase for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and a $16 million increase for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Fallin called for modernizing the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, saying she proposes additional dollars - $125,000 - for the agency charged with keeping up with campaign donations and spending.
"Responsible government means ethical government," she said.
Fallin also said she will support restoring local control to cities and towns that want to pass tobacco regulations that are more strict than found in state law, something which has been pushed in prior years.
"Almost 6,000 Oklahomans die each year due to smoking-related illnesses," Fallin said. "That includes both of my parents. My father died from a smoking-related illness when he was younger than I am."
Tobacco is the state's No. 1 killer and costs Oklahoma more than $2 billion in health-care costs and lost workforce productivity a year, Fallin said.
Fallin said she will work with lawmakers on additional workers compensation reforms to lower the costs for businesses while treating injured workers fairly.
Fallin's speech contained no surprises and was interrupted by applause about 50 times.
Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, said it was unfortunate that Fallin was proposing a tax cut when the state had so many pressing needs, such as restoring funding to common education.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said Fallin's numbers don't add up, saying she is calling for additional funds for some core services but is also proposing to reduce state revenue through a tax cut.