Setting an agenda

Greater OKC Chamber releases list of legislative priorities

Thursday, January 10, 2013

by M. Scott Carter

The Journal Record

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber will push for major changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system, completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and responsible changes to the state’s income tax, an official with the organization said Wednesday.

Mark VanLandingham, the chamber’s vice president of government relations and policy, said the organization also would oppose any new legislation that placed weapons in public schools.

“We will oppose legislation that would allow more guns on campuses,” he said. “Our chamber doesn’t believe more guns on campus is the solution to safety concerns.”

Chamber officials released their list of legislative priorities this week.

VanLandingham said the chamber’s legislative priorities address a variety of issues that affect the group’s 5,000 local business members.

“Our focus is to work with the Legislature to create a stronger business climate in our region and the state,” he said in a media statement. “We will address issues that are affecting the day-to-day operations and long-term viability of the companies that are providing jobs in the OKC area.”

VanLandingham said continued increases in workers’ compensation premiums for Oklahoma businesses placed the state at a disadvantage.

“Previous legislation turned out to make incremental reforms,” he said. “But it didn’t lower premiums for state businesses.”

Chamber CEO Roy Williams said the workers’ compensation system must be changed.

“Our state has made great strides over the past two years in creating an improved business environment and we applaud the work of Gov. Fallin and the Legislature,” Williams said. “However, if Oklahoma wants to remain competitive, our workers’ comp system must be reformed. From an economic development perspective, it’s the biggest obstacle we face.”

Williams and VanLandingham said moving to an administrative system would decrease premium costs.

“In Arkansas, they switched to an administrative system and saw their premiums go a lot lower,” he said. “It’s time to quit the tinkering. We need a major change.”

VanLandingham said the chamber would work to protect the new jobs-investment tax credit and the historical building rehabilitation tax credit. He said the group would push for completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, but said museum officials must develop an operational plan that would allow the facility to be self-funded.

VanLandingham said the museum could be completed with a $40 million bond package to match the museum’s $40 million in private funds.

“We think the state should complete the funding of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum,” he said. “But that support depends on the cultural center finding its own system of operational funds.”

Chamber officials said they would support further implementation and refinement of the A-F school grading system and funding for the state’s infrastructure needs including roads, bridges and state buildings.

“Oklahoma City businesses are facing immense opportunities, but also a variety of challenges,” said VanLandingham. “We understand their issues and will look out for their interests.”

State lawmakers will return to the Capitol in February for the first session of the 54th Oklahoma Legislature.