Water, Taxes Top Issues for Ag Groups at State CapitolMon, 24 Feb 2014 11:51:56 CST
Oklahoma lawmakers have been in session for a little over two weeks and have taken action on a number of issues. Tommy Thomas represents American Farmers and Ranchers at the Oklahoma state capitol. He spoke recently with Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays and says they are closely watching a number of issues so far this year.
"The water issues are more important the last couple of years than they had been before. It's important that we do a better job in Oklahoma of planning for our water security in the future. There are some bills that deal with drought mitigation that we are interested in.
"Obviously, any tax issue is important to us. The governor is proposing a quarter-of-a-percent reduction in taxes and, while we would all like to pay less in income taxes, we still are concerned about the core services that are available to all Oklahomans and we are hopeful that if the tax cut does come that there will be limited damage to those core services."
Thomas says the agricultural groups work closely with each other at the state capitol on matters of common interest. He says they now get together at lunch every Monday to discuss strategy and support each other in their efforts so that agriculture can speak with a strong, common voice.
The announcement by Senator Tom Coburn that he would leave office early began a cascade of politicians announcing their intentions to run for Coburn's seat or announcing their bids to run for the offices being vacated by those politicians who were running. That cascade resulted in Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon stepping down from his post in a bid for Coburn's Senate seat and the election of Jeff Hickman as the new Speaker.
"Jeff Hickman, the speaker now, from Fairview, is going to do a great job, there's no doubt about that," Thomas says. "Still, any time you have a change of leadership at the very top during the legislative session, it creates some ripples. It's going to be interesting to see how that all works out."
Thomas says he believes it will be tremendously beneficial for the state to have a speaker who is not only from rural Oklahoma, but has a background in agriculture himself.
"Before this last reapportionment, 61 of the 101 House members came from metropolitan Oklahoma City or metropolitan Tulsa. So, 61 of 101 were 'city' boys, for lack of a better word, and they're all wonderful people and they have the best of intentions. But they have very little occasion to come to the rural part of Oklahoma and understand our world and understand the distances our children have to travel on school buses, understand our county governments are more important to us than city governments, and rural roads and bridges are the way we get our farm product to town, get the feed, seed and fertilizer that we have to have back to our ranches. So, we've got to do a better job of helping our urban cousins understand what makes up the fabric of our life. And it's just as important to them as it is to us, but we're going to have to do a better job explaining that."
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