Stillwater News Press

Local News

April 4, 2014

Education, taxes dominate Chamber of Commerce forum

STILLWATER, Okla. — Payne County’s legislative delegation gathered at the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce on Friday to discuss local concerns and recent events at the state capitol.

Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, said school funding is a complicated issue and plugging holes in the budget takes more money than it appears.

“We don’t just have a school funding problem,” he said. “We have an ad valorem (property tax) problem and a health insurance problem.”

Halligan and Lee Denney, R-Cushing, co-authored HB2642 which would create the Securing Educational Excellence Fund.

It would redirect half the approximately $60 million previously diverted from the state general fund to road and bridge funding. It would put $30 million per year into an education fund capped at $600 million.

He said the ROADS (Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Drivers Safety) fund will still grow to its $575 million cap but the eight-year plan would take about 3.5 years longer to do it. Transportation advocates have criticized the proposal.

“It’s like stacking pancakes until you get 575 million of them,” Halligan said. “You can expect the people you’re taking the pancakes away from are not going to be delighted.”

Balancing the funding of different needs and priorities and the conflict that can create was one of Halligan’s themes.

Denney said their bill is important because it shows the legislature is getting more serious than ever before about funding education.

Tax cuts and tax credits were another topic.

Halligan said most Stillwater residents benefit from state taxes due to Oklahoma State University’s presence while Denney said most of her constituents in Cushing would like to see cuts in state income tax.

“We are all a reflection of our districts,” she said.

Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said solving the problems common education faces will take more than money.

When 30,000 people rallied at the State Capitol this week, they were more concerned about unfunded mandates from the state and standardized testing than money, he said.

Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, said tax cuts and credits have to be approached carefully because they affect revenue and programs.

“Every time the state does something to help business, it comes back to bite us somewhere else,” he said.

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