2018 Legislative session is Critical for Oklahoma Agriculture
The 2018 Oklahoma legislative session convenes Feb. 5 and it will be a critical session for Oklahoma agriculture.
“This session is one of the more important sessions in recent history due to the continuing state budget shortfalls,” said Terry Detrick, president of American Farmers & Ranchers.
After two special legislative sessions have failed to resolve the budget, a group of Oklahoma business leaders have worked with legislators to formulate a plan called Step Up Oklahoma. Included in this plan is a 6 cent per gallon fuel tax increase, changing legislative term limits, reducing the percentage of votes needed to pass a tax increase from 75 to 60 percent, lowering the income tax rate, and a teacher pay raise.
“I commend those leaders from all walks of life who have advanced this proposal to improve Oklahoma,” Detrick said. “We have a positive feeling about the direction of this proposal. However, we have to be cautious, as we have yet to see the exact details.”
The Ames, Okla., farmer said the fuel tax increase would have a major impact on farmers and ranchers as many have to drive long distances.
“It’s 60 miles to a decent grocery store or medical facility in my area,” Detrick said. “We often use as many gallons of gas feeding our livestock in one day as urban residents spend commuting to work in a week.”
Detrick is quick to add, “Farmers and ranchers have always been willing to pay their fair share” of the tax burden. He would like to see at least part of the fuel tax go towards improving county roads and bridges.
The Step Up Oklahoma proposal would change legislative term limits from the current 12 years to 16 years.
“Our (AFR) policy has always opposed term limits,” Detrick said. “People have the opportunity to limit the term of elected officials every time they are up for election. The increase to 16 years is a step in the right direction.”
A number of bills have been introduced to lower the amount of votes required to pass a tax increase from 75 percent to 60 percent.
“I think 60 percent is a fair number,” Detrick said. “It is extremely difficult, if not impossible to get 75 percent of the legislators to agree on a tax increase.”
A $5,000 teacher pay raise has been proposed by the Governor, and other legislators.
“No one wants to support teachers more than farmers and ranchers,” Detrick said. “If we pass legislation mandating a teacher pay raise, it should be from a continuing source of income,” Detrick said. “What if the Legislature passed the pay increase but failed to mandate where those funds would come from? We’re concerned other parts of the education budget, which is already pinched, would be used to fund the pay raise.”
The AFR President said he is looking forward to seeing the details of the Step Up Oklahoma plan.
“We are optimistic this plan is a move in right direction,” Detrick said.
Overall, Detrick said a depressed farm economy, combined with the on-going drought has stressed agriculture producers. He is hoping for a successful legislative session to ease the burden on agriculture and rural Oklahoma.
“This session is going to be extremely critical for us,” Detrick added.