By Sean Murphy
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma's legislative leaders sparred Wednesday over whether the state should borrow money to repair its crumbling Capitol while also trying to cut income taxes and spend more money on education.
At a forum hosted by The Associated Press, Republicans and Democrats couldn't agree on how best to meet critical state needs and further economic development. Gov. Mary Fallin has said Oklahoma could sell bonds to raise money for $160 million in Capitol repairs but also has suggested trimming taxes.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, said a "thoughtful" tax cut could boost economic development and reduce workers compensation costs.
"When you cut revenue, you see growth in the economy," Shannon said during the Capitol forum. But he acknowledged that some states had run into trouble by cutting their income too sharply.
"You can go too deep too quickly," he said, suggesting that legislators weigh the full impact of proposed cuts.
The Senate's minority leader, Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, said there are too many demands on state money.
"We are in no position to cut revenue," when the state needs to spend more on its workers, its schools and the seat of government, Burrage said.
The Republican leaders, Shannon and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said legislators would be asked to cut workers compensation costs with changes that would make the state more business-friendly.
The minority leader in the House, Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, suggested his party would form a coalition with moderate Republicans to prevent "fringe" members of the GOP from gaining traction. He said he feared legislators on the extreme right "should be a concern to all of us."
One set of bills would declare the federal health care bill void in Oklahoma, reject any new gun regulations proposed by President Barack Obama and nullify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's authority in the state.
Democratic legislators also asked that Fallin approve an expansion of Medicaid, saying it would benefit 180,000 low-income residents.
"In rural areas, Medicaid is the backbone of the medical system," Burrage said.
Fallin has rejected the idea of expanding Medicaid. She cited a study Wednesday that says it would cost the state $689 million between 2013 and 2022.
"An extension of that kind could force the state of Oklahoma to dramatically cut other services," Fallin said. She proposed instead a $40 million increase for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to cover uninsured residents who aren't enrolled in Medicaid despite being eligible.
Those people would be forced to enroll in Medicaid under the new federal health care plan or face tax penalties, she said.
"I am truly compassionate about those who do not have access to health care," Fallin said. "I'm also very committed to improving the health of our citizens."
The governor also proposed increased mental health services.