Thursday, November 10, 2011
By Paula Peterson, Altus Times
Governor Mary Fallin didn't let the cloudy weather Tuesday, Nov. 8 keep her away from Southwestern Oklahoma. She and her professional crew came to the Rotary Luncheon, along with Sen. Mike Schulz and Rep. Charles Ortega, who was Rotarian of the Day. Ortega introduced Fallin to the huge crowd who had come to hear speak and visit with her.
Those seated with Fallin at the head table were: Altus Chamber of Commerce; Secretary/Treasurer: Rollann Horschler, First National Bank; Rodger Kerr, Chamber of Commerce Chair, Business and Industry Director at Southwest Technology Center; Chamber of Commerce President Holley Urbanski; Altus Rotary President: David Player, Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Altus; Altus Mayor David Webb, State Farm Insurance; Sen. Mike Schulz and Rep. Charles Ortega.
Fallin, who'd been out driving across Oklahoma Monday when the tornadoes and at least one earthquake hit, came to Altus under iffy skies. She referred to Altus as "one of our model communities" in the state. She highly approves of the MAPS projects the citizens have passed. She sees them as ways we're investing in ourselves and our city. These investments in education and infrastructure may help hopefully "BRAC-proof" Altus Air Force Base, Fallin said.
She referred to the tornadoes and earthquakes and playfully asked if locusts were next.
"We love Oklahoma and it's doing great", Fallin said with sincerity. She thanked Rotarians for their support. She said she'd selected local leadership to various commissions and cited Rick Henry and Tom Buchanan as leaders in tourism and water commissions.
She acknowledged this year has been challenging with the ice storms, wild fires, drought, earthquakes to mention a few. Fallin has asked Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese to help farmers and ranchers during this extraordinary year. She issued an executive order for over-sized hauling of hay to help ranchers, and arranged the USDA for disaster declaration for emergency loans. Governor's Burn Bans have been enacted to protect lives and jobs. Fallin said she asked for a day of prayer for rain. "Water is critical for all of our livelihoods," Fallin said.
But, there 's good news. "Oklahoma is doing better than many states," she said. "We have among the lowest of unemployment...double digit revenue growth...our housing prices are holding up. We're doing relatively well."
Fallin sees the energy sector as helping us to move into a new area of economic growth. She thanked Sen. Schulz and Rep. Ortega for their support for pro-business policies. Fallin said Oklahoma is forming business-friendly conditions to attract and retain jobs. Lawsuit reform to reduce health care costs, major workers comp changes to reduce fraud and abuse, and reasonable coverage. With a $500 million gap, they've focused on making government efficient and accountable, Fallin noted. They've saved money by modernizing and consolidating agencies, which will save even more in the future.
Unlike some states during this economic downturn, Oklahoma has not raised tax rates, but made some cuts.
"We need a highly educated workforce." She said children in first through third grades learn to read, and from third grade up, read to learn. She said that 80,000 new jobs will be coming to our state. They will require at least a two-year degree, or certificate. The NBC Education Nation program featured Oklahoma. "We may not be perfect, but we're working on it," Fallin said.
The state has been among the top five states for the worst bridges in the nation. "Infrastructure is important to economic development," she said. "In the next eight years, without raising taxes or tolls, we'll get rid of 700 substandard bridges," Fallin stated. They'll help county commissioners too, to deal with their roads and bridges.
Fallin is hosting the first Governors' energy conference. Oklahoma will be a leader in this energy field in not only oil and gas, but newer energy form such as wind energy.
After her speech, many greeted the Governor and shared their concerns and congratulations with her.