By Patrick B. McGuigan
U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin today expressed strong opposition to State Question 744, a union-backed ballot initiative that would require nearly a $1 billion increase in tax financing for Oklahoma’s K-12 public schools. Fallin also called for budget priorities and an attack on government waste and inefficiency in the next legislative session.
Fallin made her comments during a press conference at the Oklahoma state Capitol this afternoon. Her visit to the state Capitol press room came in the company of Tim Pawlenty, the Republican governor of Minnesota. Pawlenty visited the Sooner State to formally endorse Fallin’s campaign for governor.
A two-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Fallin is giving up the 5th District Congressional seat to seek the Republican nomination for governor.
She enjoys a wide polling lead over state Sen. Randy Brogdon of Owasso as she seeks the state’s top job, and leads both of her potential Democratic opponents, as well.
On Monday, Governor Brad Henry -- term-limited and not seeking another political office -- said the 2010-11 budget process was by far the toughest he had faced as governor and in earlier years as a Senator. In that assessment, he echoed the views of Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee of Oklahoma City and Speaker of the House Chris Benge of Tulsa. Coffee has said he anticipates $700-800 million “hole” in the upcoming budget cycle.
In response to a request for comment from CapitolBeatOK, Fallin said, “There is no doubt we still face a very serious budget shortfall as we approach the next legislative session. It seems to me that leadership requires setting very clear and understandable priorities. Those key items are law enforcement, our veterans, and criminal justice issues, including our prisons.
“Beyond the priorities, we have to address waste and inefficiency in government. I view this in part as an opportunity to transform our government agencies and further promote public-private partnerships.”
Fallin also said, “I believe we need to have a complete inventory of state assets, selling or letting go of the ones we don’t need, and deciding which things to save.”
Concerning State Question 744, the ballot initiative promoted by the state’s largest labor union, the Oklahoma Education Association, Rep. Fallin said -- in response to a question from CapitolBeatOK -- “I’m against it. Passage of State Question 744 would be devastating to our state budget.”
The OEA initiative would require within three years as much as $1 billion in additional taxpayer funding for common education. Opponents say the measure would devastate the non-education functions of state government and/or require a massive tax increase.
Fallin said, “I certainly support pressing for education reform, and I praise many of the reforms that passed in the Legislature this year. I cannot support 744. At a time of severe budgetary shortfalls, it would cause massive new cuts in the budgets for public safety, prisons, health care, roads and bridges and other important areas.”
In response to questions on illegal immigration, including recent actions by a Nebraska Town Council and the Legislature of Arizona, Fallin commented, “The Arizona law simply mirrors the federal law. The people in Arizona and here in Oklahoma, with House Bill 1804, were pushing for ways to have verification of status to assure workers are legal and to find those who are illegal.”
She continued, “I appreciate what Arizona has tried to accomplish, what they are trying to do. It’s happened because the federal government has failed us on this issue.”
Fallin told reporters she admired Pawlenty for dealing effectively with a House and Senate controlled by Democrats: “He’s balanced his budget without a tax increase. He is a rising star in the Republican party.” The pair visited Devon Energy, “spoke with energy leaders on cap-and-trade” issues and workforce concerns, Fallin said. The day included stops at the State Chamber for conversations with business and legislative leaders, she said.
During a discussion of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Fallin said, “There is concern that the knee jerk response of the federal government on the British Petroleum response in the Gulf will hurt our energy industry. We want to reduce dependence on foreign energy sources and boost American energy industry.”
Echoing Pawlenty’s criticisms of President Barack Obama in handling the oil spill, Fallin added, “It is essential that we continue to develop energy policies” to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and gas.
Pawlenty told reporters, “I wanted to campaign with Mary and get to know her better. She has the same agenda I do to create economic opportunity for our citizens. Mary’s platform and mine are on the same page, to make the tax code more jobs-friendly. She knows the answer to economic troubles like we face now is not to increase the burdens on families. That won’t solve our problems.”
Gov. Pawlenty said, “Mary is one of the most dynamic and forward-looking candidates in the country.” He later added, “Oklahoma is very fortunate to have someone of this caliber. She understands the priority need to grow the Oklahoma economy. The best way to promote a better quality of life is to help workers get access to good jobs. Mary is connected to entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial spirit. The best way forward for Oklahoma is to develop an educated and productive work force. Mary Fallin will help do that.”
Pawlenty predicted, “Oklahoma will enter a transformative time, a decisive new era after the November election.”
Pawlenty said, “I believe Oklahoma is in a time like many other states. First there is a crisis and the need to respond to that crisis. Second, the state needs strong leadership. Third, there is an unusual opportunity to develop new policy consensus.”
He contended, “I believe there is a golden opportunity. Mary had demonstrated real leadership. This time, and this candidate, has put all three elements into play. She can put into action a new consensus that will emerge form the current challenges facing Oklahoma.”
Gov. Pawlenty’s formal endorsement of Fallin’s candidacy was issued by his “Freedom First PAC.”