Although our Christmas celebrations looked very different than in years past, I hope you were still able to enjoy this blessed season and celebrate the birth of our Savior.
As we look toward the new year, it’s important to look back and count our blessings from this year. There has been pain and struggle, but there has also been triumph, growth and new opportunities. We can’t let the difficulties overshadow the good.
Throughout the holiday season, work is continuing at the Capitol as legislative staff works through the nearly 3,800 bill requests in the House and Senate. I’m working with staff on my bills and corresponding with constituents about issues important to them. As we work through the legislative process, I hope you will reach out to me and share your comments, ideas and concerns about current laws or bills being considered. In those areas I’m not familiar with, it’s important to have input from those who work in those particular fields or have personal experience with those issues.
I look forward to learning from you all and sharing your ideas and concerns with my legislative colleagues.
While I talked about redistricting last week, which is one of the things we are constitutionally required to address this session, passing a balanced budget will be our other main focus.
The state Board of Equalization recently released their preliminary revenue estimate. Currently, they believe the legislature will have $8.5 billion to spend for the FY’22 budget. Gov. Stitt will use this initial number for his budget proposal that he will present on the first day of session on Monday, Feb. 1. He will also present his agenda and what items he’d like the legislature to address. The Board will then continue assessing state revenues and certify the final amount for the legislature in mid- to late-February.
The legislature is constitutionally required to use the February amount to pass a balanced budget. The state legislature can spend no more than is certified by the Equalization Board. People often get the budget process of the federal government confused with that of our state government. Congress doesn’t have to pass a balanced budget as they’re allowed to go into debt from year to year. We don’t have that ability at the state level, nor would any of us want that. Just as Oklahoma families have to do, we, as a state, must live within our means each year.
While revenues are stronger than originally expected, it’s important for leaders to proceed cautiously as we don’t know how the pandemic will continue to impact our economy in the coming months. We have to get through the remainder of the current fiscal year as well as look to FY’22. The budgeting process is going to be extremely difficult with so many unknowns, including when the pandemic will end, or at least get under control.
I’m pleased that our teachers and school personnel have been moved up to the second phase of the vaccine schedule. These individuals are entrusted to care for and educate our state’s youth, and by allowing them to get vaccinated, they can rest assured that they’re protecting the health of their students and families by not spreading the virus or putting themselves in harm’s way. Their job is difficult enough without constantly worrying about contracting or spreading the virus.
Having a vaccine is wonderful news for those who choose to receive it, but it will take some time to get all Oklahomans inoculated. The pandemic has put a tremendous financial strain on our state’s healthcare system and nearly every state agency. We must continue following health protocols and recommendations to slow community spread and protect our friends, families and neighbors as well as our state economy. By slowing community spread, we can ensure that our schools and businesses stay open, citizens stay employed and our economy continues to recover and strengthen. We have to stay united in protecting our great state and our fellow Oklahomans.
If you have any questions or concerns on legislative matters, please contact me at the Capitol. Please write to Senator Jessica Garvin, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 237, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at Jessica.Garvin@oksenate.gov or call (405) 521-5522.
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