Top issues before the Oklahoma Legislature

Sunday, February 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A capsule look at top issues facing the 2002 Oklahoma Legislature:

BUDGET _ Gov. Frank Keating will propose a $5.6 billion budget, about $100 million less than last year. His budget shows a $262 billion budget gap between anticipated revenues and spending commitments. He proposes to make up the difference by dipping into the Rainy Day Fund for $160 million and making budget cuts of up to 6 percent. Education and health and public safety areas would be spared from cuts.

REDISTRICTING _ Democrats and Republicans have offered competing plans and no agreement is in sight. A Republican-sponsored lawsuit has been filed in Oklahoma County district court seeking to speed up the process. Oklahoma is losing one of its six Congress members because the state's population did not grow as fast as other states. GOP Gov. Frank Keating has threatened to use his veto power if two incumbents are thrown together in the same district.

EDUCATION _ The Keating administration is pushing a plan to require all high school student to take four years of math, science, social studies and English. Some educators say the plan amounts to an unfunded mandate that will not improve test scores. Others say it will cause problems for career-tech students. Public school and college entities are asking for major funding increases this year, but thus far, leaders have said the best educators can hope for is to be spared from a round of budget cuts. There is a move in both the House and Senate, however, to improve teacher health care subsidies.

TAX REFORM _ A 32-member task force is to be named to try to reconcile different approaches for changing the state tax code. Keating wants to eliminate the state income tax and sales tax on revenue and largely replace lost revenue with a broad-based 5.9 percent sales tax on services. House Democrats are looking at a plan that would reduce income taxes and implement a smaller services tax. A report from the task force is due April 12.

PRISONS _ The Department of Corrections is seeking a $46 million emergency appropriation to make upgrades and pay private prisons for the rest of the year. The governor is proposing a $25 million supplemental.

HEALTH CARE _ The governor's budget includes $12 million to ease proposed cuts in the financially troubled Medicaid program. Keating also wants his new secretary of Health and Human Services, Howard Hendrick, to work with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to find ways to access additional federal funds.