Okla. House, Senate adjourn 2014 Legislature

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Legislature adjourned the 2014 legislative session on Friday after giving final approval to several hotly debated items, including a $120 million bond issue to renovate the state Capitol and a bill to repeal of the set of education standards known as Common Core.

Both the House and Senate adjourned one week before this year’s constitutionally mandated deadline of May 30.

In typical fashion, the Legislature waited until the final week to pass several significant measures, including the $7.1 billion budget bill that funds state government for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and a measure pushed by the oil and gas industry that adjusts the tax rate on all oil and gas wells to 2 percent for the first three years of a well’s production.

“It’s been a very challenging legislative session at times and a productive legislative session at times,” said Gov. Mary Fallin. “I do believe the Legislature worked very hard to produce a responsible, productive budget during some very challenging times, especially when we had a $188 million budget shortfall.”

The repeal of the Common Core standards for math and English instruction was the result of increasing resistance from grass-roots conservatives in the state who argued that the standards, which have been adopted in more than 40 states, represented a federal takeover of the state education system.

The bill immediately repeals the standards and directs the Board of Education to work with higher education and career and technology education officials to adopt new ones by next year.

The Republican-controlled Legislature handed Fallin several major political victories during a year in which she is up for re-election, including a bill passed earlier this session to gradually lower Oklahoma’s top income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.85 percent over the next several years if state revenues continue to rise. Fallin had made cutting the state’s income tax one of her top legislative goals, arguing that Oklahoma’s tax climate is crucial for the state to attract and retain good jobs.

But Democrats complained it was irresponsible to reduce the state’s income tax, which accounts for about one-third of all state tax revenue, at a time when most state agencies were being forced to grapple with budget cuts.

“When health care is taking a cut, transportation is taking a cut, higher education is taking an effective cut … it’s fiscally irresponsible,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.

Fallin also pushed hard for proposals to overhaul the nearly 100-year-old state Capitol and eliminate the traditional defined-benefit pension plan for newly hired state workers, and the Legislature delivered on both.

The 10-year bond issue for up to $120 million to renovate the Capitol ran into opposition from the increasingly conservative House, which has opposed going into debt to fund state projects. Several Republican House members were placated by the creation of a bipartisan commission to oversee the project and a reduction from the $160 million plan initiated in the Senate.

The 400,000-square-foot building, constructed over three years from 1914 to 1917, had barricades erected in 2011, to prevent pedestrians from approaching the south side of the building, where large chunks of limestone have been falling from the facade.

Not all of Fallin’s legislative goals made it to fruition. The Senate on Friday killed her proposal calling for a statewide vote on whether to allow school districts a one-time increase in their bonding capacity to pay for safety initiatives, including storm shelters and safe rooms. Critics said the measure would affect only 25 school districts that are near their bonding capacity, or about 3 percent of the more than 500 districts in Oklahoma.

Lawmakers also couldn’t reach an agreement on a $40 million plan to help finish construction of a Native American museum in Oklahoma City. The state funds would have been used to match $40 million in mostly private pledges to complete the unfinished museum along the banks of the Oklahoma River near downtown.

Fallin already signed the income tax measure into law and is expected to sign the bills on the state budget, pensions, Capitol repairs and drilling incentives. But she said Friday she has not decided whether to sign the Common Core bill.

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