Before beginning the policy substance of her speech, Governor Fallin held a moment of silence for state troopers Nicholas Dees and Keith Burch. Trooper Dees died on Jan. 31 after being struck by a car while investigating an accident on I-40. The same car put Trooper Burch in critical condition.
Fallin stated that she is “proud to serve as the chief executive of a state with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, a median household income growing at twice the national average, and the fourth-fastest growing gross domestic product in the United States.”
Fallin praised recent spending on infrastructure. She claimed, “Today we have only 390 structurally deficient bridges, down from a high of over 1,100. By 2019, we’ll bring that number down to zero.”
Fallin also stressed that improvement was needed in educational attainment. She believes the state must push for education beyond high school in order to address a skills gap. She cited studies that only 23 percent of jobs will be available to those with only a high school education or less in five years. This contrasts with the 46 percent of the working population who has a high school education or less today.
She also introduced a new program called Oklahoma Works, a partnership between the public and private sectors. It would allow both children and adults to get training for possible future careers.
Ultimately, she hopes to reduce “the rate of remediation for incoming college freshmen from 40 percent in 2015 to 30 percent in 2025 and increase the percentage of fourth grade students scoring proficient or above on the state reading test to 75 percent by 2018.”
Fallin also identified criminal justice and incarceration as needing reform. She stated that “one in eleven Oklahomans serve time in prison at some point in their lives. Many of our current inmates are first-time, non-violent offenders with drug abuse and alcohol problems. For some of these offenders, long sentences in state penitentiaries increase their likelihood of escalated criminal behavior.”
On account of this, Fallin urged the state to adopt more “smart on crime” policies like drug courts. She stated that “It costs the state around $19,000 a year to house an inmate, but only $5,000 a year to send an addict through drug court and onto treatment. In addition to being less expensive, it’s also more effective; the recidivism rate for offenders sent to drug court is just one-fourth of the rate for those sent to prison.” She hopes that the prison population will be reduced by 10 percent by 2025.
Fallin’s final area of reform is health. In order to reduce prescription drug abuse, she wants to pass a bill that would make it harder for addicts to get drugs by preventing “doctor shopping,” or going to multiple doctors in order to get more medication. She also wants to ban smoking at all K–12 schools. Currently, tobacco is only prohibited by state law during the school day. She also wants to ban texting while driving.
Additionally, Fallin wants to have the federal government renew Insure Oklahoma, which she described as “Oklahoma’s health plan for small businesses and lower income workers.” Her actual goals for health include decreasing infant mortality by thirteen percent by 2018 and decreasing heart disease deaths by twenty-five percent.
Most of the remainder of her speech focused on budget reform. One major problem that she sees is the diminishment of the General Revenue Fund, which is “the primary source of discretionary spending set by the Legislature each year.”
Last year, Oklahoma had its highest revenue ever at $13.6 billion. However, the “current budget system diverts billions of dollars away from the general revenue fund before the budgeting process begins, either to support various government programs, to pay for tax credits and incentives or to fill unused revolving funds maintained by some state agencies.”
As such, “In 2007, the Legislature appropriated fifty-five cents of every dollar taken in by the government. Last year, that declined to forty-seven cents. That means that today, despite the state collecting more money, the Legislature has significantly fewer total dollars to appropriate than in the past.”
She also proposed that the state adopt objective quantitative measures to ensure that programs are working and that the legislature devote every other year to the budget alone.