Although times are admittedly tough for many Americans, Senator Jim Halligan’s message at Friday’s Legislative Luncheon lent a bit of hope to his constituents.
“If you look back in U.S. history things have consistantly gotten better,” Sen. Halligan said. “We’re going to have bumps in the road – and this is a bump in the road – but things are going to get better. I call it the Progress Paradox.”
Halligan predicted the “next six months are going to be bad” with a possible 12 more months of rough road, but if Oklahomans can “tough it out” the economy will come around.
“We don’t want to spend all of the rainy day fund,” Halligan said. “I keep saying we need to make additional cuts this year – there may be more rainy days.”
Halligan said tax collections have seen a 30 percent drop since last year – that’s 26 percent less than the 4 percent estimated – leaving legislators scrambling for ways to cut $1billion from the budget.
Representative Lee Denney agreed that belt tightening was in order and that Oklahomans were “late coming into it [recession]” and “slow coming out of it” but that Oklahoma is “on the edge” of something great.
Denney also pointed out that the price of natural gas has a direct effect on the budget and said she’d been “praying for cold weather” in the northern and eastern states so that as demand increases so will the price of natural gas.
And while Denney may have been a little “tongue in cheek” in regard to her prayer request, recent weather reports of extreme cold and snow in such areas, indicate her prayers indeed may have been answered. Halligan said, prior to leaving for Friday’s luncheon, he noted the price of natural gas had risen to $5.30.
“I believe in the power of prayer,” Denney laughed.
As for the belt tightening, a question was raised as to what could be done about budget cuts for educators since wages and employment in many instances are contractual.
“It may dictate something like early retirement or furloughs,” Halligan said. “It’s going to be very, very difficult – but I think we can do it.”
The views of Denney and Halligan seemed optimistic after reports from representatives of Congressman Frank Lucas’ and Senator Tom Coburn’s offices.
Tyler Laughlin, field representative of Congressman Lucas, repeatedly said to “keep an eye” on financial regulations and appropriations such as the H4173 bill and the Cap and Trade bill. “If the Cap and Trade bill – or the ‘Cap and Tax bill’ as we like to call it – passes, you can expect to see your utility bills double,” Laughlin predicted.
Matt Ball, Senator Coburn’s representative, predicted even more doom and gloom saying that if “Obamacare” passes, “our country will be on the pathway to a single payer system” and will “force 15 million Americans into Medicaid” – a program that is already in trouble. “It’s been predicted that Medicare will go bankrupt by 2017,” Ball said. And as for Cap and Trade – “Cap and Trade would bankrupt Oklahoma – it would crush our economy.”
Ball also said Republicans have been “locked out” in the discussions on the healthcare proposals – although when pressed on the subject, Ball admitted that “some” Democrats have been locked out as well.
“There is no transparency,” Ball stated grimly.
However, Ball did encourage citizens to check out an alternative healthcare program on Sen. Coburn’s website, https://coburn.senate.gov – saying, “There’s no doubt our healthcare system needs improvement.”
Locally, County Commissioner Bill Deering reported very few paving projects currently in the works, citing that two new bridge projects failed to receive stimulus money because they were not “shovel ready.”
“We’ve been waiting for one year now for a letter from the phone company stating what they plan to do with some lines,” Deering said. “And the second project in Yale, we can’t get the mortgage owner to talk to us.”
Although Deering seemed to be frustrated about those projects, he said the Euchee road project has finally been completed with the help of the Sac and Fox Nation. “The BIA ran short $285,000 so we used tax money to pay for that,” Deering said. “The Sac and Fox reimbursed us and we just recently received that check.”
Deering said due to the state of the economy he has cut back on spending and has no new projects in the works, however some old chip and seal roads will be receiving an overlay in the spring.
Deering also reminded folks that the new county jail is open and currently has about 120 inmates. “I guess that proves that old saying, ‘If you build it they will come,"” Deering said. He also said that the county is selling old kitchen equipment – stoves, refrigerators, etc. – by sealed bids. The bids will be opened Dec. 15th.
Interim City Manager Steve Spears gave an update on Highway 33 construction currently going on in Cushing. “With the help of Lee Denney we were able to get them to hit the areas that are the worst for now,” Spears said. “Overall, it will be better.” He went on to say that they will be doing a feasibility study of making Main Street (Highway 33) a five lane road.
He also talked about the new skate park that’s currently in the works saying the equipment is expected to arrive Dec. 15th. “We think this will be a positive thing for Cushing,” Spears said.
According to Spears, the City of Cushing, too, is tightening its belt, “Sales tax is down 15 – 16 percent,” Spears said. “Relatively, however, we are doing better than some.”
Because the holiday dumpster program was so well received last year, Spears said the City is going to do it again. Dumpsters should be in place by Dec. 23rd at the same locations they were last year.
Another item on the list of updates – the new incubator/terminal building at Cushing Regional Airport. A grand opening of the building was held recently and Spears encouraged all citizens to check out the latest addition to the airport.
The next Cushing Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon will be held the last Friday of the month in February. All are invited to attend.