Oklahoma Farm Bureau President Rodd Moesel discussed the top issues expected to be addressed by the state Legislature this year with Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat and Speaker of the House Charles McCall during OKFB’s Leadership Week.
Below read Farm Bureau’s five takeaways from the conversation with the state Legislature’s top leaders.
1. Progress on rural broadband expected
With an estimated 30% of Oklahomans considered underserved in broadband services, both legislative leaders said they expect to see progress this year on bringing high-speed internet to all Oklahomans.
“It’s not something that just happens overnight, but there’s been a lot of effort and I expect us to make some great strides in that area,” McCall said.
Under the Rural Broadband Expansion Council created by the state Legislature last year, McCall and Treat said they are working with private sector stakeholders to create a plan to deliver broadband to underserved areas of the state.
“I think you’re going to see real movement on that this session,” Treat said.
2. Ad valorem taxes still a threat for farmers and ranchers
The state Legislature this year will consider a number of bills that would allow municipalities and counties to levy new ad valorem taxes upon approval by voters in the community. Treat and McCall each said they hope to find a solution that will work for all stakeholders.
Though empathetic to the ebb and flow of sales tax revenue in cities, Treat said he is unsure if Oklahomans are ready for increased ad valorem taxes.
“I don’t envision that you’re going to have a whole lot of opposition to your point of view at the Capitol,” Treat said. “I think you’ve made a solid case among my caucus – your members have – but those needs in municipalities are real…If we can come up with some solution there that their income is not so volatile, I want to be helpful.”
McCall said that while the state Legislature is inclined to no taxation, the body also prefers giving control to local communities.
“The Legislature is looking to reach out and have those discussions with Farm Bureau and other stakeholders and say, ‘Hey, how do we go down the road together?’ if that’s possible,” the speaker said. “Until there’s an agreement, usually there’s going to be no change.”
3. A balanced budget won’t include new taxes
Despite facing a down budget year from impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the added expense of Medicaid expansion, Speaker McCall does not plan to raise taxes on Oklahomans.
McCall said the state Legislature will aim to fund Medicaid expansion and the state budget by adjusting overall state funding and utilizing state savings accounts.
“We’re not going to raise taxes,” McCall said. “We’re going to live within our means and we’re going to try to create this session once again – as we do every year – focus on creating the right environment in the state of Oklahoma for business to flourish.”
4. Redistricting process could see delays
One of the state Legislature’s most consequential tasks this year is drawing new congressional and legislative districts using 2020 Census results. But Treat said the process could become more complicated this year due to U.S. Census Bureau data delays.
The constitution requires legislators to complete the redistricting process during the same legislative session in which census data is received – even if the data comes toward the end of the session.
“I’m a little nervous we’ll get that data mid-May,” Treat said. “I have concern, but I think we’ll work through it and figure out a way.”
Treat said legislators have started redistricting work by using 2019 estimate data.
“(Redistricting) is a very serious issue,” Treat said. “Who represents you at the Capitol is an important thing. It’s not something we take lightly. But having fair lines, having lines that represent communities’ interests is an extremely important undertaking this year.”
5. Getting in touch with legislators
The legislative leaders both encouraged Farm Bureau members to stay engaged in the legislative process by reaching out to their legislators through a phone call, an email or even a town hall.
“We’re going to be responsive to our constituents,” McCall said. “We’re elected to represent a group of people from different areas of the state, and every House member takes that very seriously.”
Treat encouraged Farm Bureau members to develop a personal relationship with their state legislators before they have a problem.
“Get to know us before there’s an issue that arises,” Treat said. “That’s the most effective way.”
To find contact information for your state legislators, use the Find Your Legislator tool on the OKFB website.
For more information on how to stay involved in the legislative process go to okfarmbureau.org/advocate21.