By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
State Sen. Patrick Anderson is optimistic legislators can resolve issues involving two state-run centers for the developmentally disabled.
“We continue to fight, and I’m optimistic we will succeed,” Anderson said.
Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid is scheduled to close in 2015, while Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley is set to close in 2014.
PDF: Click HERE for the phase-down plans for NORCE, SORC
People across the state believe the vote to close NORCE and SORC was handled incorrectly by Gov. Mary Fallin, Jackson said, speaking Monday to Enid Rotary Club.
Oklahoma Commission for Human Services voted in November to close the facilities. A decision on the facilities was delayed for several months, and Fallin eventually was able to appoint a majority of the members on the panel.
If the state shuts down both facilities, there will be no state beds for severely disabled clients. Anderson, R-Enid, said private agencies could then increase costs at will, and the state would have no alternative except to pay it or have people homeless.
“There’s no safety net, and we’re at the mercy of the private companies,” he said.
Legislation has been introduced to keep services at the two facilities.
On another topic, Anderson spoke about the flat income-tax-rate proposal he has introduced.
He said it will be a “very difficult” to pass: Anderson asked Oklahoma Tax Commission officials for the lowest rate that would be revenue neutral, and they responded with 2.95 percent.
“Considering California just passed a 13.3 percent tax rate, this will give Oklahoma the lowest tax rate in the nation, and will make us very competitive,” Anderson said.
In order to reach a flat 2.95 percent tax rate, Anderson said all tax incentives and exemptions would need to be eliminated. That will prove a difficult fight, he said, because the ones with the largest tax breaks have the most lobbyists.
Another bill Anderson has this year will make the Vietnam Wall replica being put in place next to the Woodring Wall of Honor at Enid Woodring Regional Airport the official Vietnam Wall in the state. He believes such a designation will increase tourism at the wall.
Among Anderson’s assignments in the Senate this session is being chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Non-Appropriated Agencies. He is studying all non-appropriated agencies, including the Peanut Commission, Oklahoma Board of Dentistry and others. The purpose of the committee is to find efficiencies and possibly determine if consolidation is preferred. There are 45 agencies.
He also is a member of the Pension Committee, which will study state pensions, which have a $10 billion unfunded liability. The state historically has granted cost of living increases to retirees, but did not fund them.
“We need to get away from a defined pension system and move to a 401(k)-like system,” he said.
Answering questions from those attending the meeting, Anderson said Fallin is opposed to a mandated federal health care exchange. An exchange can be imposed by the federal government, but when it starts, the tax also starts, he said. If the state established the exchange, he said, the state would become the taxing agency; If the state doesn’t create an exchange, the federal government will become the taxing agency.
Anderson said a health care exchange establishes a data system of insurance companies that allows customers to review companies and pick the one they prefer.
He said the governor is opposed to expanding the Medicaid system, and that decision could cost state hospitals the loss of Medicaid revenue and increase their costs.