Senate clears omnibus budget, Gov. Fallin will sign soon
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Published: 15-May-2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – The general appropriations budget funding Fiscal Year 2014 passed the state Senate 28-20 on May 14 (Tuesday). Having cleared the state House of Representatives last week the massive spending package now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin, who is expected to sign it soon.

House Bill 2301 establishes the state budgeting framework for next year. It includes spending increases for education, child welfare, and state infrastructure needs. 

A press release from President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, described the plan as “a balanced budget with a focus toward basic priorities.”

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Bingman said, “This is a responsible and fiscally conservative budget, with increases targeted to core government services — education, infrastructure and human services. The budget includes more than $90 million of additional funding for common education — money to keep the promises we’ve made to support historic education reforms, to fund benefits that our teachers depend on every month, and to put more dollars in the classroom.”

According to a staff summary, spending hikes include:

· $91 million for common education, including: $74 million in FY 2014 to support reform efforts and get more resources into classrooms; a $17 million supplemental for common education to fund teacher health benefits and other costs in FY 2013

· $33 million for Higher Education and $3 million for Career Technology to support operations and the goal of awarding more degrees and career certificates

· $40 million for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to support operations, including Sooner Care

· $1.2 million for the Department of Health to support infant mortality reduction initiatives and to implement new inspections of long term care facilities for veterans

· $17.4 million for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse to support initiatives including suicide prevention, prescription drug abuse prevention and treatment, counseling for children with mental illnesses, and “smart on crime” initiatives like the Justice Reinvestment Act

· $44 million for the Department of Human Services to support operations, including the implementation of the Pinnacle Plan and the reduction of the waiting list for services offered to individuals with developmental disabilities

· $30 million to the Maintenance of State Buildings Revolving Fund and $60 million for repairs and renovation of the State Capitol. 

Expressing disappointment with the 2014 budget was Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, the Minority Leader. He said, “This budget bill is just another example of our legislature lacking the political courage to tell Oklahomans exactly how and where we are spending their money.

“Last week, we passed a politically motivated tax cut while, at the same time, hiking fees on hard working Oklahomans. Tuesday, we handed over $30 million to the State Buildings Revolving Fund with no plans for how that money will be spent. In addition, we shortsightedly took bond issues off the table because it’s not the ‘fiscally conservative’ thing to do, despite it being the perfect economic climate to take on that kind of debt.”

Burrage also disagreed with plans to spend $7 million for office renovations at the Capitol.

The minority caucus assistant leader, John Sparks, D-Norman, commented on a specific budget decision in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK: “Today, we allocated an additional $13 million to the OSU Medical School in Tulsa. This is in addition to the other state money regularly provided to the program through the Regents for Higher Education. This is at least the third time such a special expenditure has been requested and granted.

“Each time, it has been approved with the understanding that it would be the last bailout needed. And each time, they are approved because the program purports to provide doctors for rural Oklahoma.

“However, these physicians graduate with $200,000 to $225,000 in debt. This is two to three times the amount of debt accrued by students at medical schools in the surrounding states. With that much debt, these physicians are practically forced to find work in high-revenue practices so they can repay their loans.

“If our goal is to get doctors into rural Oklahoma, we could take the $13 million from this line item and agree to pay off the loans of medical school graduates if they provided healthcare in rural Oklahoma.

“For example, with $13 million we could go to Baylor Medical School in Dallas and recruit 140 physicians who could be deployed, debt-free, to rural and underserved areas of Oklahoma. The numbers are comparable for many of the medical schools in Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.

“These doctors would have no student loan debt pushing them away from lower-paying practices in underserved areas. The current scenario is not resulting in a good return on the investment of taxpayer dollars.”

The budget is the third consecutive increase in state spending since Republicans took control of the state government after the 2010 election. This year’s budget hike is just more than a quarter-of-a-billion dollars. 

Eight Senate Republicans joined all 12 Democrats in opposition to the budget. On the House side, 12 Republicans opposed the budget. 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

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