In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley sit down with House Speaker Charles McCall. McCall says it's time for lawmakers to find a way to provide affordable health care to Oklahomans, and Medicaid expansion is one option.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor, with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Our guest is Oklahoma's Speaker of the House of Representatives, Charles McCall, Republican from Atoka. Welcome, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker Charles McCall: Good afternoon. Thank you.
Shawn Ashley: Mr. Speaker, how would you characterize this session so far?
McCall: I think this large election cycle back in November resulted in a body in the House of Representatives that those here are really looking for solutions. In the first six weeks of session all the House bills that made it to the floor... Only two measures were voted down on the floor. The rest were advanced to the Senate, which is the most bipartisan effort that I've seen in seven years of service here in the House. We have a dynamic here, too, that we haven't had in the past, with such a large class. We have the largest Republican caucus we've ever seen in state history. We also have, I believe the largest--have to go back and check--but we have the largest freshman class, probably.
Pryor: Mr. Speaker, teachers have been hoping for an additional pay raise this year. You have a bill to provide an additional $1200 per year. Do you see that going through?
McCall: Well it's a priority for the House of Representatives. It's also been... We've heard the governor say that's a priority of his this year as well. And we believe it's important... I think it's important to continue to address the teacher shortage issue that all states around us are experiencing. When we left last session we had moved from seventh in the region to number two. When we came back this session we started at number three, because Colorado had made a move after we did last year. That $1200 teacher pay raise I think is important so that re-establishes us in the top one or two.
Ashley: A lot of education officials are talking about the need for more money to go into the classroom. Do you see that being a component of the FY 2020 budget?
McCall: Absolutely. In the House of Representatives we want the $1200 teacher pay raise, and we want additional classroom funding. And where I hear the governor signaling, he wants the teacher pay raise. What I hear the Senate say, they want classroom funding. And what we're saying in the House is we can do both. So that's where I hope that we land.
Pryor: Oklahoma is one of only 14 states that still refuses to accept federal dollars for Medicaid expansion. Is Medicaid expansion on the table this year?
McCall: We know that we have to address access to healthcare and affordability of healthcare. We're watching very closely the governor's position on this issue. The governor's going to have to lead on this issue. The legislature does not want to deliver him a piece of legislation that he's not in favor of signing. But I plan to announce, very similar to what we did with [State Question] 788, a work group this summer to bring in House members. We will invite the Senate to join us as well to come in to hammer out a solution on health care. And we'll try to we'll try to find a way to best deliver a solution that will work for Oklahomans.
Pryor: There is a lot of work to be done to push Oklahoma to top ten status in various key areas, as suggested by Governors Stitt. It's a big priority of his. Before the session began you said there would be no measures to raise more money this year. Can Oklahoma become top ten in these areas without raising more money to invest?
McCall: I think so. I think you'll see with the rebound of the economy that we're going to continue to have greater surpluses going forward. I fully expect that next year there may be greater amount of surplus available.
Ashley: What do you think of Governor Stitt's idea to save a significant amount of the growth revenue that you know have available for appropriation?
McCall: I think it's a great concept, a good idea. What we found ourselves in four years ago, prior to the revenue contraction, which was at the heart of that was a full cycle in commodity prices for oil and gas, we had about $850 million the rainy day fund. That proved not to be near enough money to stabilize the state government until the economy could recover. I agree and I applaud Governor Stitt's efforts to want to build some reserves. We just have to work together to decide how much we can build over time and still meet the demand for services for the citizens the state of Oklahoma.
Pryor: What else would you like to accomplish as you look toward the next year and a half, let's say?
McCall: We will lay the groundwork, as I've said, this summer and in the interim to address health care in the state of Oklahoma. I think we are at a point where we have to make a decision. And there's multiple paths that we can travel down. And I think that'll be the big issue to tackle in the future. Criminal justice reform is something that we will we will address it again next year, and that that's an area where we want to see improvement. And we need to measure every year if we're moving the needle.
Pryor: Speaker of the House Charles McCall, thanks for joining us.
McCall: It's been an honor. Thank you both.
Pryor: That’s Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at email@example.com or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and eCapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.