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May 18, 2014

Fallin says Legislature in ‘high gear’ despite squabbles

DUNCAN — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin met with Duncan Banner News Editor for a question and answer session before joining fellow Republicans at the 10th Annual GOP Fish at the Stephens County Fairgrounds. Here’s how it went:

Question: This legislative session seemed to be a bit more contentious between the legislative and executive branches of government. What do you think?

Answer: We believe we have a budget deal ... I have been aggressive with the Legislature to tell them time is running out. We need to get our work done. There are a lot of issues that haven’t been addressed, but now I think we have things in high gear ... we haven’t addressed our Capitol and its needs for  repair. We’ve been talking about a capital bond issue for the last four years since I’ve been in office. I’ve been putting pressure on the legislators to do something about fixing our Capitol because its our seat of government, it’s the focal point of our state, where a lot of tourists go. That’s been part of the pressure I’ve been trying to put on the legislators...

We still need to address storm shelters to allow schools to put in storm shelters should they choose to do that...

Q. Where do you think the oil and gas drilling tax will end up?

   Our gross production tax on oil and gas expires in July 2015. It’s important we address it this year so our energy  companies, especially a lot of the companies here in Stephens County and this area of the state, will have some certainty...to know what their tax rate is going to be.

Q. Tulsa oilman George Kaiser thinks it doesn’t make any difference what the production tax is when companies decide whether or not to drill for oil and gas in Oklahoma these days.  What do you think?

A. I appreciate the vigorous discussion we’ve had by many different people on different sides of the issue. I think you will see an increase in the gross production tax ... but the debate has been on how much of an increase do we think is good for incentivizing more drilling in our state, how much is fair to our taxpayers, that’s what the debate has been about. I am hopeful sometime this week we’ll find some sort of a resolution.

Q. Regarding the Lockett execution, a number of people we taken aback when you and some legislators, for lack of a better word, attacked the judiciary for their temporary halt of the execution. They felt like it may not have been in the spirit of our separation of powers. What do you have to say about it?

A. The facts are that both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals had a difference of opinion...We asked for clarification. I actually delayed the execution until we could get some clairification...

   As you know there were problems with the first execution. It certainly didn’t go the way I would ever want it to go. Then I stepped up and asked immediately for our Commissioner of Public Safety, which is an independent agency from the Department of Corrections to look into what went wrong ... We sent the body off to Texas to have the medical examiner tell us what exactly occurred. We really don’t know the facts yet.

Q. The Oklahoma investigator  is a state employee. You still think he can  conduct a truly impartial investigation?

 A.  We do. I have good confidence in our Commissioner of Public Safety.  He’s a standup guy. He served two tours in Iraq. He’s had a great reputation. We did, once again, get an independent investigation of the body itself for the medical side of the execution.

Q. The budget, as it stands now, does not increase funding for Medicaid or the state agency that administers it. You, of course, declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Some people don’t like that. I’m curious what you would say to people who simply don’t think you like the Medicaid program.

A. I certainly support the Medicaid program. That’s why last year I gave somewhere around   40 million new dollars to the Medicaid program and the health care authority ... We’ve tried to hold it flat, to where they’re not taking cuts. A lot of our Medicaid population will be able to go into the Affordable Care Act ... It’s been estimated if we had expanded Medicaid  the way President Obama allowed states to do, it would cost the State of Oklahoma another $1 billion over the next 10 years.

Q. On the third grade reading test, do you want it to stay the way it is or do you want it amended?

A. We are carefully looking at the Reading Sufficiency Act and the piece of legislation that has been passed to change the way we promote or don’t promote third grade student. ... The test results last week showed about 16 percent of our third-graders aren’t reading at grade level.  The interesting part about the test itself, it actually tests at the first-grade level. So when a third-grader fails, they’re really reading at the first-grade level, not actually the third-grade level. That’s why I believe academic rigor, having tests, measuring our students is very important...As we look at our prisons, we find that around 70 to 80 percent of those in prison are illiterate, don’t read at grade-approriate level, don’t finish high school.  So we’re setting our children up for a lifetime of failure if they don’t get the reading skills they need. We also have a 48 percent remediation rate from our seniors who graduate high school and start their freshman year in career tech and college. Forty-eight percent of them aren’t ready to start college and aren’t ready to start a career tech program cause they can’t read at grade-appropriate level or do the writing or the math at grade-appropriate level. That’s why high academic standards are so critical, not only for the child’s success but for Oklahoma’s success.

 

 

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