This was a big week in state government, with many events and announcements coming out of the Capitol, though many were virtual. One of those was the State Board of Equalization, which met virtually on Monday to declare a revenue failure in the current budget of nearly $417 million. The downturn was the result of the combined effect of already low energy prices and the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our economy.
We’d already approved measures allowing the use of state emergency funds to ensure state agencies, who are working diligently to provide a variety of critical services during this pandemic, will receive critical resources. The board also projected a decrease in available revenue for the 2021 budget year of more than $1 billion. Legislators must first be able to review and analyze the data this projection was based on, then determine priorities and options to help us protect core services during this challenging time.
You likely have already seen news reports and social media posts about the governor’s plan for reopening the economy, which was rolled out this past Wednesday. The governor stressed his plan was guided by scientific data regarding the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Some cities may opt for later openings, based on the needs and concerns of their own communities. You can find out more about the governor’s plan here: https://www.okcommerce.gov/wp-content/uploads/Open-Up-and-Recover-Safely-Plan.pdf.
The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission announced that they will begin issuing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) next week to individuals who don’t qualify for regular unemployment insurance benefits, including independent contractors, gig workers and other selfemployed individuals. If you fall into this category, you can apply for unemployment here: https://ui.ok.gov. If a PUA eligible claimant goes back to work as the state reopens, they will still receive backdated unemployment benefits to when their COVID-19 related job loss or business closure occurred.
We held more virtual committee meetings this past week in order to continue the work of the Senate while social distancing. These focused on executive nominations by the governor of individuals selected for voluntary posts within state agencies, boards and commissions.
On Wednesday, I presented Matthew Brosi from OSU, to serve another term on the State Board of Behavioral Health Licensure. His nomination was approved by the Health and Human Resources Committee. On Thursday, I presented Russell Teubner, a Stillwater entrepreneur, to serve on the Oklahoma Science and Technology Research Board, along with Paul J. Tikalsky, of OSU, to a position on that same board. Both nominations were approved by the Energy Committee. These are outstanding, accomplished individuals and I anticipate winning final approval for them when their nominations next move to the full Senate.
Finally, I want to remind everyone again, if you haven’t filled out your census form, please respond. Our economic recovery from this pandemic is going to be a long road. We cannot afford to leave federal dollars for schools, hospitals, transportation and more on the table, but those funds are distributed based on population, so please be counted. You can fill out your form and mail it in, or you can complete the census by phone by calling 1-844-330-2020, or online at 2020census.gov.
I thank you for the privilege of being your voice at the State Capitol. If you have any questions or concerns about legislation or other issues at the state level, please feel free to contact my office by calling 405-521-5572, or email Tom.Dugger@oksenate.gov.