Other than the two-plus hours I spent on the Senate floor, in caucus, and in a meeting in my office on Monday, I was in bed in my apartment near the Capitol trying to recover from whatever the crud is that has me down.
I didn’t have much to say during caucus or on the floor, partly because I was trying to avoid contact with other members to avoid passing this on, and also because I was trying to save my voice for the meeting in my office.
I’m a little under the weather.
It would seem that the State of Oklahoma is as well.
Now if you listen to some, the State is not just sick but practically in a state of decomposition.
Admittedly we have some issues, but a lot of the comments about the state’s condition are overkill.
Some of our issues:
First, the Governor vetoed, using a very creative line-item veto, the amended budget we sent her at the end of the first special session. This has resulted in some serious issues. We had gone into special session with the express purpose of restoring funding to three agencies, Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA), Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS), which were stripped of much of that money. The CIRB fund (County Improvements for Roads and Bridges) had an extra $50 million swept from its revolving fund on top of the $30 million the legislature intended to use, and about $48 million in revenue from legacy wells was left undirected, not being used.
So, we must find a way to immediately restore funding to agencies like OKDHS and deal with some of the numerous other issues created by the veto, and do it this week. Eventually, we need to restore the CIRB funding.
To give credit where credit is due; for weeks the Republican leadership has been meeting with the Governor, with leadership from the minority party, and with business and industry leaders to find a long-term solution to our budget issues. They seem to be making some progress. But that won’t be ready until probably January.
Moving onto the next issue. The Department of Health was using inappropriate, if not illegal, bookkeeping to hide its financial condition from the legislature and the Governor. This is being investigated. Hopefully it will be made right soon.
Remember the meeting I mentioned earlier? That was with Director of Corrections, Joe Allbaugh. Another issue is that our prisons are definitely sick.
Let’s see, serious overcrowding, dilapidated prisons like McAlester where we spend $41,000 per year on each inmate, and contraband like drugs and cellphones flooding the prisons, putting the guards and the inmates’ lives at risk. It still boggles the mind that we have prisons without fences around them, so prisoners just walk away from time to time. Director Allbaugh assured me that’s an issue he’s aiming to correct.
The director and I were able to discuss some common sense solutions to issues as well as legislation I am working on. It reminded me of the disease that is weakening our state. It might be called “catchup-itis.” You know, where we are constantly trying to catch up, to repair that which should have been replaced long ago, where the efficiencies we expected a decade ago might be instituted sometime in the future, and where the state finds itself being financially strangled by poorly planned and projected tax credits and rebates, that only get dealt with when it’s almost too late.
A few more days of mostly sleeping and I hope to be right as rain.
When we will actually take on the illness plaguing the State of Oklahoma? That, I don’t know, but hopefully soon.
I welcome your questions and concerns, so please feel free to contact my office at the State Capitol if you would like to discuss a particular issue or problem. Our office can be reached by phone at 405-521-5561 or by email at email@example.com. If you visit the Capitol, we are located in Room 527A.
Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) was elected in 2016 as state senator from District 1, which encompasses the northeast corner of Oklahoma. The district includes Craig County, Delaware County, Mayes County and Ottawa County.