This is a trying time for Oklahoma and the state’s elected officials have to make tough decisions to move Oklahoma forward and to support all citizens of Oklahoma. Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton supports the efforts from both the House and Senate this week to fill the current year budget hole and to provide for future recurring revenue.
“We support HB 1054x and its efforts to generate recurring revenues,” said Chief Batton. “These efforts will provide certainty for all Oklahomans as we work together to support education and healthcare in our state. As a sovereign nation, we value our relationship with the State of Oklahoma. However, the current state of uncertainty makes it even more difficult for us to serve our citizens and non-native citizens who live in southeastern Oklahoma. HB 1054x is a step necessary to provide that needed certainty for Oklahomans, especially those who are most vulnerable.”
HB 1054x proposes raising the gross production tax, raising a $1.50 per pack tax on cigarette, raising a $0.06 per gallon gasoline and diesel tax, and increasing a tax on low point beer. The raises will result in a positive difference in healthcare and educational opportunities in the state.
The state budget affects all vulnerable populations in Oklahoma, but particularly southeastern Oklahoma. Historically, this area has been the poorest not only in the state, but has some of the most persistent poverty stricken counties in the whole country. In Pushmataha County alone, 43 percent of the population is enrolled in Medicaid.
“As the Choctaw Nation, we have concerted efforts to serve our citizens and turn around the effects of persistent poverty and change our people’s future,” continued Chief Batton. “We have made remarkable progress through collaboration with state, municipal and county agencies for these efforts. We, and all our partners within southeastern Oklahoma, need the support of the state legislature to fully fund core services like healthcare to positively impact the health, wellness, and economy of our whole state. HB 1054x will provide the necessary means for these services and partnerships to continue.”
Choctaw Nation has long supported educational opportunities across Oklahoma. In its 10.5 counties, the Choctaw Nation works with all of the 87 public school districts, serving Choctaw students and all Oklahoma school children. The teachers are the heart and soul of these schools, but the best and brightest instructors are often lost to neighboring states. HB 1054x will provide these educators with a long-overdue pay raise that makes Oklahoma’s education system competitive with neighboring states.
“We support the efforts made to move HB 1054x out of committee, and urge its swift passage before the full body of the Oklahoma House of Representatives,” Chief Batton said.