Agenda For a stronger, healthier more prosperous Oklahoma

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1 Agenda For a stronger, healthier more prosperous Oklahoma Oklahoma enters a new century poised for growth and positive change -- but that growth and those changes will only take place if we act now. During the past five years, we have made significant strides in preparing our state for the new century: an historic road program, welfare and tort reforms, tough criminal justice policies that have resulted in real reductions in crime rates, tax cuts, incentives for economic growth, learning based education reforms. These were and are important steps forward because they all recognized a fundamental truth... government cannot assure prosperity, and when it acts improperly it can even impede it, but it can help create conditions that will unleash the amazing creativity and potential of our people. The Keating Agenda for 2000 and beyond focuses on five key areas, each designed to make Oklahoma stronger, healthier and more prosperous as we approach our centennial in Building a healthier Oklahoma The landmark welfare reform act of 1995 recognized that people are responsible for their choices and actions. Last year, Governor Keating proposed a series of long term goals to encourage Oklahomans to address the social pathologies that harm individuals and families and impede our collective progress. In the new century, Oklahoma must continue to seek ways to reduce the incidence of divorce, substance abuse, child and domestic abuse and out-of-wedlock births. If you doubt the costs of these problems to our society, consider the findings of a study commissioned by the Governor s Task Force on Substance Abuse: chemical dependency costs Oklahoma $7.6 billion each year in direct costs and lost productivity... some 13 percent of our entire gross state product! 3

2 Agenda initiatives for 2000 include tougher drug and DUI laws, increased treatment for those who are addicted, a covenant marriage law and ongoing efforts to strengthen Oklahoma families. Making Oklahoma smarter For Oklahoma, as for individuals, quality education will help assure a bright and prosperous future. We made great strides in 1999 with House Bill 1759, recognized by Education Week as the most impressive effort in the nation to increase academic standards and accountability. But it was just a first step in our effort to make Oklahoma s schools the nation s best. The Governor s LearnPower agenda for 2000 is an even more ambitious plan to continue these reforms. It includes a stronger middle school curriculum, ending social promotion with remedial programs in math and reading for failing students, innovative programs to further upgrade our already outstanding teacher corps and efforts to help schools find teachers in in-demand specialties like math and science -- and funding that will significantly increase teacher pay. Oklahoma s more than 600,000 public school students want to be challenged. They know their role in the increasingly complex world of the new century will be determined in large measure by what they learn today. Growing rural Oklahoma Personal income levels in many rural counties continue to lag as much as 50 percentage points behind those in our metropolitan areas. Oklahoma can no longer afford to be a two-tier state. We are all Oklahomans, and we must grow and prosper together. One imminent crisis concerns our rural hospitals. The Governor s Agenda 2000 includes efforts to increase Medicaid reimbursement to those facilities, assuring continued health care for rural residents. We must also continue to upgrade our telecommunications network, further linking rural and urban Oklahoma to the many 4

3 distance-shrinking advantages of this growing technology. The Governor has also proposed tax cuts and credits and incentives to remove further barriers to economic growth for rural communities. Fixing workers comp -- NOW Oklahoma is one of only three states to retain an antiquated adversarial court system for assisting workers who are injured on the job. A system meant to be compassionate and helpful has become, in many cases, a lawyer enrichment system that is costly to employers and injured workers alike. Agenda 2000 proposes a sweeping overhaul of Oklahoma s workers compensation system, replacing the court system with one that handles workers comp claims administratively, fairly, efficiently and at lower cost. This new administrative system would dramatically reduce lawyer involvement and fees, end the problem of dueling doctors and speed delivery of benefits. It would also significantly cut costs to business, removing an often-cited barrier to winning new business and jobs for our state. Lower taxes = growth! Despite small steps forward in recent years, Oklahoma continues to be known for its burdensome auto tag fees, high marginal personal income tax rates and confiscatory estate taxes. High taxes impede growth; lower taxes stimulate it. Growth doesn t come from government, it arises from the private sector. Agenda 2000 proposes further reductions in personal income tax rates. It would make Oklahoma a pick up state, equalizing our estate tax exemptions with the federal schedule. 5

4 And it would finally bring real relief to all Oklahomans who buy vehicle license tags. A 1999 effort to reform auto tag rates was revenue neutral, but you cannot cut taxes here and raise them there and be fair to everyone. Governor Keating s Agenda 2000 proposes a simple flat-rate tag system that would lower costs for all and give real tax relief. Remember, the purpose of taxation is to fund essential public services -- not to enrich government. The freedom to succeed Oklahoma is a state that was founded on an ideal -- free people succeed and prosper. Our earliest settlers, our Land Run pioneers and many of those who have been drawn to our state through the years came here to take advantage of that freedom. They have achieved much, but in too many cases, state government has hindered rather than helped. We have too many agencies, too many taxes, too many regulations and too much government. The result is clear: in county after county where Oklahoma adjoins our neighbors, Oklahoma income and prosperity levels are lower by as much as 20 percentage points from those across the border, even where populations, demographics, climate, soil and other factors are the same. What s the difference? Government. Most of our neighbors have lower taxes and fewer government barriers to progress -- including Right-to-Work laws that liberate workers to associate freely. It is no accident that Oklahoma is the only state west of the Mississippi expected to lose a Congressional seat following the 2000 census. We can continue to do business as usual, piling new government functions and 6

5 taxes atop the old ones, impairing the productivity of a vibrant and enthusiastic people... or we can choose a new path that will free Oklahoma to grow and prosper in the new century: the Keating Agenda

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