Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Okla. Gov. Fallin Sets Her Course

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Okla. Gov. Fallin Sets Her Course

Article excerpt

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin called on state lawmakers to flatten the state's income tax rate, restore funding for teachers' health benefits, refill the state disaster fund and provide more money for road and bridge improvements during her State of the State speech Monday.

Fallin also issued a second terse response to leaders of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. She said she would request more money to hire the very best counsel to defend the state against the tribes' joint lawsuit over the Sardis Lake Reservoir.

Previously, the governor sent a joint letter to both tribal leaders calling on them to withdraw their lawsuit.

"As you know, the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations have sued the state of Oklahoma concerning who owns the water in 22 counties," the governor said Monday. "We continue to hope this issue can be settled through mediation, without huge legal fees, and with all parties negotiating in good faith."

But should the tribes not share that goal, the governor said, her office would defend the water rights of all Oklahomans against a claim that favors one group over the interests of the entire state and all of its citizens.

"To ensure we are adequately prepared to do that, the attorney general needs additional resources to retain the very best counsel," she said.

Fallin's speech, which lasted about an hour, was interrupted by applause more than three dozen times. During that time, the governor touted her work during the 2011 legislative session, describing that session as one of the most productive sessions in memory.

"I'm proud of the work we have accomplished in such a short period of time," Fallin said. "But that work is not done."

On Monday, Fallin said that work would include a major overhaul of the state's tax system that would reduce the tax rate from seven brackets to three. She said the system would eventually phase out the income tax for every Oklahoman.

"It provides broad-based tax relief to the middle class without starving government or hurting the working poor," she said. "It also protects core government services."

Fallin said her plan would eliminate state income taxes completely for couples making up to $30,000 per year and sets a rate of 2. …

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