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Union “card checks,” the EDGE program endowment and infrastructure repair may join health care, lawsuit reform and other perennial concerns on The Oklahoma State Chamber’s list of key issues for 2009. President and Chief Executive Richard P. Rush released a tentative list of legislative issues Monday, noting the agenda’s final status remains in flux as 30 State Chamber committees stocked with volunteers work through this summer to identify business concerns and positions.

Although the issues were listed in no particular order, Rush said the first one could be the top concern for 2009: the Employee Free Choice Act. Expecting the issue to come before Congress next year, Rush said many unions had geared up to push for the card check legislation.

The effort would do away with secret ballots when deciding whether employees would join a union, which Rush feared would raise public scrutiny and pressure to encourage positive votes.

Rush said The State Chamber is working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several national associations in forming a coalition against the union effort.

The EDGE endowment fund makes the tentative list not just to secure more funding, which now sits at $150 million, but also to let businesses know that the state now has $13 million from this program for further research and economic development prospects.

The possibility of boosting that endowment to $1 billion also remains on their minds, said Rush. That would generate $50 million a year in interest for EDGE prospects.

Immigration reform remained a key concern, said Rush, although it did not actually appear on the tentative list. The issue fits with the chamber’s drive to improve worker education and skill sets, since both help attract more business to Oklahoma.

“We’d love to grow them from within,” Rush said of high-quality workers. “That’s the primary goal. “But if we can’t grow them, we’d better import them,” he said. “Otherwise the business will move to where they can get them. Keeping American business in America – that’s the future.”

Last year the chamber fought legislative efforts to put sunset clauses on several business incentive programs. Expecting such arguments to rise again, the chamber included keeping these promises on its tentative 2009 agenda.

Although scattered across the list, Rush said both lawsuit reform and health care could place near the top. He said the same of transportation infrastructure repair, even though those costly bridge and road repairs could siphon off funds from other projects.

On the other hand, Rush said the chamber is considering a stand against any move over water supply concerns until researchers complete work on the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, which he admitted may take until 2011.

The agenda amplifies policy goals within The State Chamber’s five-year strategic growth plan, a program Rush started when he came to the organization in 1986. Then a five-employee staff with an annual budget of $458,000, Rush said the five-year plans helped the lobbyist organization focus its efforts and resources, charting growth with each success. Having accomplished 87 percent of all stated goals on its five-year plans to date, the chamber has grown into a $3.7 million organization with 21 employees, benefited by a Champions Program that provided a new foundation for its development.

Rush also spoke highly of the developing Prosperity Project, which polls prospective lawmakers to help voters understand a candidate’s business positions. He hopes to expand the project to judicial positions.

“I’ve had seen no tool prove more effective in 36 years of my chamber work,” he said. The State Chamber of Oklahoma tentative key issues for 2009:

• Protecting a worker’s right to a secret ballot.
• Lawsuit reform for small business development.
• Support of strong economic policies.
• Additional funding for the EDGE endowment fund.
• Common education system support, including paying teachers by their rated effectiveness.
• Protecting state tax and economic incentive programs.
• Support of programs for affordable health insurance, accessible health care and medical training.
• Regional airport modernization.
• Support of economic development and tax-increment financing laws.
• Increased funding for state road and bridge repairs.
• Opposing major changes to state water supply laws until completion of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan.


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