Murdock states Senate's goals: budget transparency, agency accountability, education
February 17, 2019
Sen. Casey Murdock expressed tremendous optimism for the future at Friday's “Legislative Eggs and Issues” Community Coffee, put on by the Chamber of Commerce and held this time at Northwestern Oklahoma State University.
“The Capitol building down there is alive and it reflects the attitudes of the people who build it,” he said. “And the year that we had a $1.3 million hole in the budget, when I walked into that building, you could feel it. You could feel the dread. You could feel the tension. And, quite frankly, it was miserable.”
But the mood has changed dramatically, he said.
“This year you can feel the hope, you can feel the excitement. I'm excited about (Gov.) Kevin Stitt. I had breakfast with him yesterday, and I love his vision for the state. I'm excited about it. I hope we can get it accomplished. I think we're on our way to turn this around and get onto the right path. The last two weeks have been crazy, but it's a good crazy. You can feel the hope and excitement and positive energy at the Capitol.”
Murdock attributes that to new leadership – to Stitt but also to President Pro Tempore Greg Treat. The Senate “pro tem,” as it's informally called, is the highest ranking state senator. His counterpart in the House of Representatives is the Speaker of the House.
“We have Greg Treat as new pro tem on the Senate side,” said Murdock. “We still have (Charles) McCall on the House side, but I think it's the new leadership and vision” that has changed the mood in the Capitol so dramatically.
Treat Sets Four Top Priorities for the Senate
“One thing Treat wanted to do was set a target goal for the senate. Set our priorities,” he said. “I guess in the past it was more of a scatter-gun shoot at the target and then draw your target around what your bullets hit. He (Treat) wanted it more precise, and is starting off this session with our goal as the Senate, and what we want to accomplish,” Murdock said. “That gives me a chance to come out and talk with you folks and say these are our goals and then at the end of session say this is what we accomplished. To me, that's accountability.”
Senate Goal 1: Budget Transparency
“We're going to create a legislative budget transparency office,” Murdock said. “I can tell you in the four years I've been there, the numbers we have gotten from different agencies have not been right. We've got to have the right numbers coming into us so we can budget correctly,” he said.
He recalled the special sessions last summer that had to do with $30 million that the health department said they were short.
“It make me mad,” he said. “Oklahoma has a balanced budget. We don't have a printing press down in the basement printing out more money. Everything has to balance. What happened was we went to county roads and bridges, took the money from them, and gave it to the health care department. When we have to (give) $30 million to an agency because they're short, we have to take it from another agency, which puts them in a jam. And then, come back, they didn't need it! They found the $30 million that they were short. That was salt in the wound; they didn't need it.”
So Murdock has hopes that the new budget transparency office will prevent these kinds of problems.
“This office we're going to create will help us audit these agencies and dig into their budget so we have good numbers to budget off of,” he said.
Senate Goal 2: Government Accountability
“The second priority is government accountability,” Murdock said. “That is giving the governor the power to hire and fire agency heads. We're going to maintain the boards, but what I've seen in the last four years is there's no accountability in the agencies.”
Nobody, including the legislators, votes for the agency heads, Murdock said. Legislators only vote for the boards. That makes the agency heads only accountable to their boards, and the agencies wind up playing political games in an attempt to fatten their budges.
“These agency heads – the year with $1.3 million (hole), they (the Department of Health) cut the senior program,” which caused legislators to get an earful, but legislators had no power over agency heads. “They play political games because they can get away with it because there's no accountability. What we're going to do is say the buck stops at the government office. If these agencies aren't getting services to Oklahomans the way they should, they're held accountable to the governor because the governor's held accountable to you guys. So there is accountability.”
Senate Goal 3: Protect Investment in Education
“We are going to protect the investment that we have made in education last year,” said Murdock. “For republicans who don't believe in high taxes, we voted for the largest tax increase in state history to fund education. We're going to protect that investment. And we're going to add to it.” To use Gov. Stitt's terminology, Murdock said “We're going to work to be in the Top 10 in education across the board, whether it's teachers, testing, classroom size – we're going to get there.”
Senate Goal 4: Criminal Justice Reform
“I think people need to be held responsible for their actions,” said Murdock, “but in what I've seen in my four years, I think the key to criminal justice reform is mental health. I think mental health is our issue, and mental health is the No. 1 reason our prisons are overcrowded.
For example, a lot of crime is caused by drug addiction, he said. “I think if we give money to mental health and address the mental health issues in this state, we will fix criminal justice reform; we will fix our overcrowding in this state.”
Murdock to Push for Raises for College Employees
Murdock said he also plans to push for a raise for college employees. “When I was campaigning in Alva a year ago, (he learned) that the teachers at Alva High School make more money than the college professors here,” he said. “I about fell over.”
With input from an unnamed audience member, presumably a leader at NWOSU, Murdock said $38.5 million to give college employees a 7.5 percent “in my mind, that's not a big ask this year. Now with that being said, our corrections workers need raises. But we need to start somewhere and I'm going to be pushing for colleges.”
A State Steak?
Murdock then talked about another bill of his that has passed out of committee with a vote of 12-1. “It's my favorite of the year. It is in my opinion the most important legislation around this year. It is making the ribeye steak the State Steak.”
The audience laughed.
“After a horrible two years and two special sessions in the summer, I thought, you know, let's have a little fun. Let's lighten the mood a little bit. So I filed this bill,” he said. “People say it's a silly bill, it's a do-nothing bill, we've got better things to do. I took offense to that. Because if you dig down into what this bill is, it's multi-agricultural.
“Agriculture's taken it on the chin in this state. We need agriculture to survive. You guys probably feel it when wheat prices or cattle prices go down. That's what drives the economy here. It's a way to wave the flag for agriculture. We are No. 3 in the nation in beef cow numbers. We have 5.1 million head of cattle in this state. This is just a way to promote an agriculture product.”