State Sen. Cal Hobson recommended today that the Oklahoma Legislature convene in special session in late July or early August to complete its work on two critical funding areas.
Hobson, D-Lexington, suggested that $21.7 million be allocated to Oklahoma public schools for the 2006 – 2007 school year. This amount will guarantee for educators, schools, and students 100 percent state funding of the recently mandated $3,000 teacher pay increase.
Also, a special session will bring the Legislature into compliance with Governor Brad Henry’s remarks last week during the State Superintendent’s Annual Leadership Conference in which he said “in the final analysis the Legislature didn’t fully fund the pay raise. You should not have that unfunded mandate. It’s unacceptable, and we need to do something about it.”
On a second and related topic, Hobson urged that the Governor’s special session call include $20 million dollars for investment in the under-funded teachers’ retirement system. Such a proposal was long a part of the Senate Democrats’ budget plan for the fiscal year that began July 1, but was not agreed to by House Republicans.
As to the source of the $41.7 million, Senator Hobson pointed out that “immediate funding is available now for both proposals since the June 2006 tax collections are expected to be at least $80 million above estimates. These two critically important budget needs can be addressed now, but could not have been during the recently completed June special session. June collections were unknown at that time and thus unavailable for appropriations.”
Hobson’s proposal to allocate a portion of the June collections is not without precedent. In July of 1981, under the able leadership of then Governor George Nigh, the Legislature was called into special session and in a prompt and orderly fashion appropriated $350 million for the long neglected state road and bridge system. Major projects in Oklahoma City such as construction of the Hefner Parkway, the Central Expressway, numerous major improvements in Tulsa, and dozens of other necessary road and bridge enhancements throughout the state were identified, engineered and built.
Even with the combined expenditure of $41.7 million for these funding priorities, significant cash will remain on hand for allocation by the Legislature when it convenes in February of 2007.
“By acting now the Governor and the Legislature, in a bipartisan approach, can quickly and efficiently address these important public priorities. Also, it will preclude these critical needs from becoming targets of political demagoguery in the upcoming fall elections. If nothing else I’m sure the public will be very much thankful for that,” Hobson concluded.