Monday, November 2, 2015

Cimarron County, Schools Make Case for Ad Valorem Fix

OKLAHOMA CITY – Cimarron County has more than twice the land owned by the Commissioners of the Land Office than any other county in Oklahoma, participants noted in a legislative study today.

A large portion of that approximately 225,000 acres provides funding for several of Oklahoma’s higher education institutions, according to Secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office Harry Birdwell. There is a total of 236,000 acres in land owned by the state in Cimarron County, according to county officials.

State Rep. Casey Murdock said he requested the study to provide his colleagues with insight into how that land lowers the amount of ad valorem taxes available to Cimarron County and its school districts. There is also a significant negative impact on the local millage rate and bonding capacities of the school districts and county.

“For the cash-strapped school districts in that county, ad valorem tax revenues are a big deal,” said Murdock, R-Felt. “The residents and county and school officials of Cimarron County would like to see some way for them to recover that lost money. After working with the Commissioners of Land Office, I think we have several ideas, but have not yet fully vetted them.”

It is unlikely that the Commissioners for Land Office could simply remit the money lost, because of laws regarding how they operate their trusts. Other states have dealt with the issue though.

“Any solution we choose would not just be for Cimarron County, but we are using them as our example because the impact is so much higher there,” Murdock said. “We have to explore if some of the options we are discussing meet state constitutional standards, but if they do, we will pursue them in the upcoming legislative session.”

Although the Commissioners of Land Office provides revenues for schools and higher education, not all institutions receive funds equally, according to Birdwell. The agency owns 224,993 acres, of which 62,801 acres are set aside for school districts.


Additional information:
The three counties containing the greatest proportion of CLO land are Cimarron County (19.78% of the county is CLO land), Pawnee County (7.07%) and Kay County (6.4%), according to the CLO Real Estate Division)
CLO distributes to school districts based on their average daily attendance, a figure provided to them by the state education department
The estimated impact of CLO on Cimarron County includes about $72,897 in ad valorem taxes, a reduced bonding capacity of about 20 percent and reduced millage rates

Rep. Mark McCullough Will Not Seek Re-election

OKLAHOMA CITY –State Rep. Mark McCullough (R-Sapulpa, District 30) announced his intention to not seek re-election in 2016 and to retire from the House of Representatives after serving out the remainder of his current term. District 30 includes the communities of Sapulpa, Glenpool, Kiefer, Mounds, Liberty, Oak Ridge and Bixby.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to represent the area where I grew up and where my family is from. I am very humbled that my friends and neighbors saw fit to allow me to serve them in the Legislature these ten years. I am grateful.” McCullough said.

McCullough entered the Legislature in 2006, winning a highly competitive election, and again in 2008 in another very competitive election year. He faced token opposition in 2010 and ran unopposed in the last two elections. 

Reflecting on his motivation for running for office, and now choosing to leave after his current term is up, McCullough stated: “The Lord put it on my heart to run for office, and now I believe He’s telling me its ok to step away. There will always be another battle to fight at the Capitol, and I’ve fought my share – and maybe a few more,” he added with a grin. “I’ve tried to be a good steward with my time in office, and now it’s time for the people of District 30 to begin the process of choosing who that new steward should be.”

When asked to comment about the impending legislative session and what he might do after leaving office he stated: “It’s definitely the budget. We are really in the hole this year, and I imagine most of my time will be spent on that.” I’m going to work until the bell, though, that’s how my parents taught me. After next November? Just keep practicing law and be a husband and dad. My family was very patient to share me with the state for a while and now I just want to try and spend more time with them.”

McCullough has been in solo law practice in Sapulpa for nine years where he focuses on Probate and Estate Planning. He is assisted in his practice by his highly effective legal secretary, office manager, and wife of 17 years, Charlotte McCullough. His son Everett is in sixth grade at Sapulpa Middle School and his son Clayton is in fourth grade at Freedom Elementary.

While in the Legislature, Rep. McCullough was involved in several major policy initiatives including pension reform, lawsuit reform, criminal justice reform, improvements in Medicaid and perhaps most significantly, worker’s compensation reform.

McCullough was an early – and sometimes lonely – voice in the Legislature for comprehensive worker’s compensation reform, ultimately being asked to serve on the House legislative team responsible for writing and guiding the final reform bill through in 2013.

When asked to reflect on that experience, he said, “Years back, I’d get asked to speak at worker’s comp conferences as the ‘other guy.’ I’d speak on the huge problems facing our system and the possibility of switching to a modern administrative system. I remember having the trial lawyers in the back of the room snicker loudly and otherwise express a lot of hostility.” He continued: “Well, a few of us never quit studying and preparing, so we had all the elements ready to go “off the shelf” when leadership decided to run the bill. And now we finally have a model administrative system based on best practices. A system that I believe is serving our workers much better than the old adversarial one, and is sending insurance premium rates through the floor, which helps businesses stay competitive – just like we thought it would.” 

In addition to policy work, McCullough has also served as Chairman of Judiciary Appropriations and Budget Committee for the last several years where he is responsible for evaluating and meeting the budget needs for several state entities including the Courts, the District Attorneys and the Attorney General’s office. He also serves on the full Appropriations and Budget Committee, and as such is on the Budget Team, where he has focused the bulk of his time and efforts in the Legislature the last few years. 

“The budget is a jealous and fickle mistress.” McCullough said. “It takes a ton of time and you don’t know which way it’s going to toss you at any given moment during session. You have to keep a lot of Alka Seltzer handy. The yearly budget is a big, very real, fight between competing priorities – with well represented advocates. One positive aspect of earning a spot on the Budget Team has been the opportunity to strongly advocate – year after year  – for the Common Education budget: either for a bigger slice of the pie or a lesser cut if times were tough. When it comes to the eight schools districts in District 30, it has always been an easy choice of what to fight for.”

Finally, Rep. McCullough has had a career long focus on the importance of preserving the traditional, nuclear family. “I just sensed early on that this was something that the Lord wanted me to focus on, and the message is this: The family is desperately important, especially to the well being of children. All the research tells us, the Scriptures tell us and common sense tells us that kids do better with mom and dad. We shouldn’t vilify single parents, we should help them, but we should do everything we can to keep couples healthily, happily married.”

McCullough held numerous studies on this issue of family fragmentation and its negative effects on society, its costs to government and how to prevent it. He also held press conferences raising awareness of the issue and ran several bills aimed at chipping away at the problem. One major success came two years ago when, working with Rep. Jason Nelson and many others, a bill passed bringing the first substantive change in Oklahoma’s divorce laws since the late 1950s. The bill required a statewide, pre-divorce class that included topics such as substance abuse, co-parenting, domestic violence and potential reconciliation. The bill was based on Tulsa District Court’s highly successful model.

McCullough went on to state that this accomplishment, like every major achievement in the Legislature, was a team effort, requiring seriousness of purpose and a focus on eternal principals. “If you hang around me down at the Capitol very long, you’ll hear a few saying bounce around the office with some regularity: 1) There is no “I” in Team, 2) I take the job seriously… but I hope I don’t take myself too seriously, and 3) If its not about God, what are we doing here?” He concluded: “I’m not the best Christian sometimes. Just ask the people that have to work with me. We all need Christ’s grace. But I do sincerely attempt to seek the Lord in all that I do in this job, while trying to weave Biblical principles into every bill and every transaction over which I have influence. And I pray in some small way, that has made a difference.”
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