How to stabilize our state, incubate innovation, and fix core services including public education

I have a three part plan of attack for shoring up state spending, growing an innovation-based economy, and fixing our public education problems.  I’ve been discussing this plan with people all over Senate District 36, refining it based upon their input and concerns.  If elected as your State Senator, here is what I will do.

First, we need to restore stability and faith in our state government’s budget process. I will fight to guarantee annual, transparent performance audits of every state agency. We should explore zero-based budgeting whereby agencies must justify their budget requests to the legislature, and the legislature must review each of them, in the open for public review, every year. This may not work for every case, but it is a best practice to strive for where possible. Minimizing “off the top” budgeting and making sure the People see the results of annual audits and know how their legislators are arguing and voting on agencies’ budgets can help Oklahomans have more confidence that elected officials are spending taxes wisely.

Second, I will work with business leaders, technology incubators, and our colleges and  schools to remove barriers to growing and retaining innovative companies here in the Tulsa metro and Oklahoma. We can’t rely on the industries of the past, we need to diversify.  Software and technology are the highest growth and best way to do so.  I have 22 years of experience in the tech industry that I can bring to bear on this, from startups (employee number 11 at Runkeeper, which was ultimately sold to Asics) to Internet services to big computer makers (Sun Microsystems, bought by Oracle) and Nokia’s mobile phone business.

Some of the things we need to look at to enable this rapid innovation include:

  • We must tackle the issues that kept Amazon from seriously considering Tulsa for their second headquarters. One of their top concerns was education.  We need a first class public education system capable of producing thousands of programmers, engineers, accountants, administrators, and support staff.  They also wanted direct mass transit access, bicycle lanes, and great highway connectivity into a suitable greenfield or infill site big enough to support 50,000 employees; other high growth companies have very similar infrastructure requirements.  Amazon and others in the tech industry also highly value a stable tax regime and business environment. Wild swings from one election to the next are a bigger concern than the specific tax rate, so long as it’s reasonable. We need to address all of these issues so that when the next Amazon HQ2-sized opportunity considers our area they will see excellent infrastructure, education, and business climate.
  • We must have facilities to incubate startups in our community.  We need something like 36 Degrees North here in Broken Arrow and East Tulsa.  Young entrepreneurs need a place to collaborate in a shared work space, meet other entrepreneurs and potential investors, learn from regularly scheduled technology and business workshops, and work with civic and school leaders and other members of the community.
  • We must make sure we have the connections between K-12 education (especially STEM programs), tech schools, colleges, and industry so that there are career paths from school into startup creation and high paying tech jobs.  The incubators discussed above can host school and college programs to get kids directly involved in programming, design, and entrepreneurial competitions.  These programs can culminate in internships and ultimately paid jobs with incubated companies for high school, tech, and college graduates.
  • We must also encourage private investors to invest in young entrepreneurs.  We could do this with targeted credits, measured closely to make certain they are a net gain for the People of Oklahoma, not a tax drain.

Third, we need to fix the structural budget deficit in our state, including meeting our constitutionally mandated obligations for the core services of public education, transportation, health care, and public safety. All of these directly affect our quality of life but also our business environment. Companies looking to expand their presence in Broken Arrow and Tulsa demand stability in public education and the other areas.

To ensure a healthy public education system, I will work to enact a 4 Year Education Plan analogous to the existing 8 Year Construction Work Plan (aka the “Roads and Bridges” plan).  This 4 Year Education Plan will establish a fund for salaries and operational expenses, with a goal of leading our region in both by year four.  I will work with parents, PTAs, School Boards, Superintendents, statewide education leaders, and the legislature to enact this 4 Year Education Plan as quickly as possible.  We cannot afford to wait!  This isn’t magic, but it is necessary to stop the loss of our best teachers and to secure the future for our children and our state.

I believe we can pay for these things in the short term by keeping the hard fought compromise of 1010xx. Then in the next legislative session, we need to look at the projected surplus and consider if anything further is required such as capital gains exemption reform, capping the wind energy credit, or revisiting GPT.  Longer term, economic growth through innovation will “float all boats” and be a win-win for the people and businesses of Oklahoma, and thereby help fix our systemic revenue problems as well.

If you agree with me that we need a transparent state budget process, a thriving innovation economy, and properly run core services including first class public education, please share this plan with you friends and colleagues and vote for Bill Day on June 26!

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