By Governor Mary Fallin
With a budget deal reached and a flurry of important legislation ready to be signed into law, it is clear that the 2013 legislative session will be a constructive, even historic, time for lawmakers.
On three major fronts, legislative leaders and I have made substantial progress on policies that will bring more good-paying, high-quality jobs to Oklahoma: reducing the state's income tax, overhauling the workers' compensation system and addressing the state's long-term infrastructure needs.
Our income tax reduction plan lowers the state's top tax rate by 0.25 percent, to 5 percent, starting in 2015, and lowers that rate even further, to 4.85 percent, the following year. Once fully realized, our tax cut will pump more than $200 million a year back into the private sector. It is a responsible, meaningful tax cut that will let Oklahoma families keep more of their hard-earned money while spurring job growth and business expansion in Oklahoma.
Additionally, the Legislature has worked with me to pass an overhaul of our workers' compensation system. For decades, Oklahoma has had one of the most expensive and inefficient systems in the country, a constant obstacle for business owners looking to expand operations or create more jobs. Legislation passed this year will completely overhaul and replace that system, dramatically reducing costs to businesses while still treating injured workers fairly.
Finally, we have passed legislation to enact a long-term infrastructure plan to address the state's many infrastructure needs, including repair and refurbishment of our crumbling state Capitol.
All of these are important reform efforts that will be complimented by this year's budget deal, a smart, fiscally conservative blueprint for state spending that provides targeted increases in resources for priorities like education, healthcare, child welfare and infrastructure.
Delivering additional resources for education, in particular, continues to be a priority that is reflected in the budget-making process. Nothing is more important to Oklahoma's long-term economic success than building a highly skilled, well-educated workforce, and that requires good schools.
To support and improve our public schools, this year's budget agreement includes more than $120 million in increased education funding, money that will be used by K-12 schools to support reform efforts and increase classroom resources. The additional funds also will be used by universities and career technology centers to support the goal of awarding more college degrees and career readiness certificates.
The budget agreement also includes funding increases for mental health programs, Medicaid services, infant mortality reduction initiatives and a number of other priorities. It is, however, a plan that largely holds the line on spending growth, asking our state agencies to focus on increasing their productivity and operating more efficiently and effectively.
This year's budget, coupled with a major income tax cut and other reforms, reflects a commitment to pro-growth, conservative policies that will build a stronger and more prosperous Oklahoma. The 2013 legislative session will be remembered as a remarkably productive season that will contribute significantly to our state's economic growth and ever-improving quality of life.