State House sends $7.2 billion budget to Senate, ‘early’ adjournment discussed
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Published: 10-May-2013

House Bill 2301, the general appropriations budget for Fiscal Year 2014, has advanced to the Senate, which is expected to pass it next week. The measure boosts state government spending by a quarter of a billion dollars. 

If the budget passes the Senate, it will be the third straight increase in state spending since Republicans took over every part of state government in 2010. State spending in the Sooner State never declined, even at the peak of the Great Recession.

Funding hikes include $91 million for common education, $44 million for the Department of Human Services (including implementation of the “Pinnacle Plan” operational reforms) and a total of $90 million for maintenance and repairs of state property, most of that for Capitol Building improvements.

In a statement to CapitolBeatOK, Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, touted the measure as “a sensible budget that does not increase the tax or debt burden on the people. Oklahoma will not go down the path of other states and spend away the people’s opportunity for prosperity.”

House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Scott Martin, R-Norman, asserted the budget will “uphold core government services” and demonstrates the GOP majority exercised good stewardship “of the taxpayers’ money and infrastructure.”

The massive budget measure passed 59-40, with only two members not voting. In the end, an eclectic mix of 12 urban and rural Republicans joined all 28 Democrats present in opposing the budget. 

In a joint statement after the May 9 vote, House Democrats said the Republican budget “was written without the input of the vast majority of the legislature. Agencies that have taken on draconian cuts since 2008 will continue to struggle under this budget. Our schools will continue to struggle to keep the doors open and class sizes will continue to grow under this budget. The staffing and security crises in our correctional facilities will continue under this budget.

“Our university systems and college students will continue to take on debt because the costs of higher education will continue to escalate without alleviation under this budget. The services for our veterans will continue to disintegrate under this budget. Republicans would rather direct money to renovate buildings and office space than truly meet the needs of core state agencies. This short-sighted budget will only harm Oklahoma’s future by failing to adequately reinvest in services like our education system, public safety, and our veterans.”

While the outcome of the budget vote was always certain, passage of the omnibus spending plan only came after several hours of debate, some of it fractious. 

House Democrats unveiled an alternative spending plan Thursday morning (May 9) with much millions of dollars in higher proposed expenditures for K-12 education and Higher Education, as well as pay hikes for state Highway Patrol Troopers and Corrections Department employees, a one-time bonus for other state workers, and several hundred thousand dollars for veterans’ services. 

Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, and Mike Brown of Tahlequah,  the ranking Democrat on the appropriations and budget panel in the House, were joined by a dozen colleagues to unveil the budget alternative this week.

Over the last two weeks, Democrats have repeatedly complained they were not included in the budget negotiations. A few Republicans have seemed restive over the projected expenditures, but few spoke for attribution, outside of the floor debate this week.  

At his weekly press briefing with Capitol reporters, Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, told CapitolBeatOK he supports the practice of an up-or-down vote on a unified state budget, rather than consideration of spending plans in smaller segments. 

Bingman noted the 2013 session began with more than $1.2 billion worth of requests for spending hikes. He said he expects the budget to pass next week. Another 18 or so additional pieces of legislation remain “alive” for possible enactment this year, Bingman told reporters. 

Legislative leaders have discussed early adjournment – conceivably by next Friday (May 17) but almost certainly by May 24.

Pressed for a date certain, Bingman quipped that Sen. Mike Schultz, R-Altus, the majority floor leader, has given him a “firm promise we’ll be done by May 31.”

The last Friday in May is the date mandated in state constitutional provisions for “sine die” adjournment every year.

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

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