Having a seat at the table
The 2016 legislative session is over and while it was one of the most challenging sessions for the business community I can remember, the end result was more positive than negative. But we can already see that next session will involve many of the same battles.
We knew that with a $1.3 billion deficit, lawmakers would be looking to raise revenue on the backs of business. Early in session, businesses faced bills proposing more than a billion dollars in higher taxes.
Despite having a mechanism in place for an independent panel to assess tax credits and incentives, lawmakers proposed halting important, proven programs for the aerospace, construction, medical and energy sectors. Simply proposing these bills had a chilling effect on capital investment and job creation. Who is going to expand their operations here if government changes the rules in the middle of the game?
Generally, businesses plan years in advance and expect consistency in the legal and regulatory climate. Radical changes in economic policies can cause chaos and disrupt business investment.
We fought diligently against these job-killing measures and managed to reduce the tax increase on business by more than 80 percent compared with what could have happened.
Oklahoma will continue its investment in road and bridge infrastructure and our hospitals will not face drastic cuts in Medicaid provider rates. But a plan to rebalance the Medicaid system did not pass. This was a missed opportunity to address Oklahoma’s uninsured care costs, which get shifted to businesses and those with insurance.
Oklahoma will also see long-term negative effects from significant cuts to higher education. Our state’s workforce needs are well-documented. Our member businesses have trouble finding trained, skilled workers, and reducing our higher education investment will exacerbate the problem. Lawmakers did make changes in common education that should help the business community, including accepting new state standards and making student tests more relevant and comparable to their peers in other states.
So with another legislative session in the books, we are already looking toward next session. It starts with making sure pro-business candidates get elected, then listening to our members to determine our 2017 agenda. If you think your company’s voice is not being heard, now would be a good time to join the State Chamber. As this year proved, if you don’t have a seat at the table, you may be on the menu.
This column by Fred Morgan, President and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma, was printed in The Journal Record on June 10, 2016