Stillwater News Press

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May 2, 2014

Local legislators cry foul on political games

STILLWATER, Okla. — The Stillwater area’s legislative delegation expressed frustration with partisan bickering, special interest lobbying and political gamesmanship during a forum at the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Friday.

“It’s time for them to grow up and do what we sent them down there to do,” said Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison

Casey, Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, and Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, said important issues like education funding should be more important than special interest concerns.

“We need more money for education,” Halligan said. “Does it really make a diddly if I vote to override the NRA bill?”

Williams assured the audience that gun rights are not in jeopardy in Oklahoma.

Halligan said “the fog of war” affects people’s reactions and makes it hard to work together.

Casey and Halligan, who have backgrounds in education, said school funding has to be addressed.

Public education is underfunded by $800 to $1,000 per pupil, Halligan said.

Another problem is the teacher retirement system. He said the state needs to put $300 million per year into it because leaders didn’t put enough money in to cover benefits and cost of living increases.

Casey said he thinks giving teachers a $10,000 a year raise and having them buy their own insurance would save money.

Buying their own policies would give teachers more flexibility and require them to “have some skin in the game”, he said.

Casey said insurance requirements under Obamacare could even force the state to provide medical insurance for substitute teachers who work frequently.

He said he thinks education funding needs more serious discussion.

“If we spend 50 percent of our money on education, you’d think we’d spend 50 percent of our time talking about it,” he said.

The legislators also touched on corporate tax breaks, attempts by special interests to affect judicial nominations because they don’t like court decisions and how difficult it can be to get a piece of legislation passed.

Williams said he doesn’t like the committee process because bills go through and come out fundamentally changed.

“There are 1,000 potholes a bill can die in,” he said. “There are 2,001 if you’re a Democrat.”

Williams criticized Gov. Mary Fallin’s recent veto of 17 bills passed by the legislature. Even though she said they were vetoed to focus attention on priorities instead of minor issues, he doesn’t buy that.

He’s looking for a way to repackage one of the vetoed bills, a measure he authored regarding criminal record expungements.

He said he thinks she’s angry because the House didn’t pass some of her personal priorities like providing money for repairing the state capitol and completing the Native American Cultural Center.

“The vetoes were not about subject, they were about process,” he said “She’s mad at us but she can’t say that.”

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