“Global agreement” for OK state budget announced, with historic pension reforms included

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders have announced a Fiscal Year 2015 budget agreement that provides an $80 million increase for K-12 public education (with much of the hike lost to increased ObamaCare premiums), a pay hike for some state employees, and $44 million for the Department of Human Services.

Total state spending will decline slightly under the plan, due to reductions in many agency budgets.

What one legislator described as a “global accord” includes an explicit commitment to put before both House and Senate the final version of an historic pension reform bill.

In an odd year which saw government revenues increase, the budget framework Fallin negotiated with Sen. Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, and House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, nonetheless includes, the leaders announced in a joint statement, “targeted spending cuts and a reconciliation of several state agency accounts to close a $188 million shortfall in funds certified for appropriations.”

In response to questions from CapitolBeatOK, Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said the Affordable Care Act is “greatly” if not entirely responsible for the state government’s increased costs for public employee health insurance.

Specifically, increased health insurance costs under what is widely deemed ObamaCare will eat up approximately half ($40 million) of the projected “new money” for common schools.

In sum, the 2015 Oklahoma state government budget will be $102.1 million less (1.4 percent) than the 2014 budget, based on the estimates provided to reporters at Noon Hour on Friday, May 15. 

Jolley stressed, in a  joint briefing with Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, that the “shortfall” is not the result of poor economic performance. Indeed, Oklahoma government has “higher income tax collections than ever before.”

He said the reduction in money available for direct appropriation by the Legislature is a result of lower corporate income tax collections, and “money off-the-top” which is pre-designated for a variety of state programs, including a tuition scholarship program and a variety of tax credits.

In the House leadership briefing for state Capitol reporters, Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City, said, in response to CapitolBeatOK’s questions, that major pension reform will advance anew in the Legislature, beginning Monday.

McDaniel said the historic shift toward a defined contribution plan for new state government employees was part of what he called the “global agreement” that could bring the 2014 legislative session to a close within one week.

Speaker Hickman told reporters said that in addition to $80 million in new money for public schools K-12, another $25 million will be drawn from the unclaimed property fund to finance ad valorem (property tax) reimbursements to local school districts in the latter stages of abatement’s provided to the energy industry.

A total of $36.7 million in new money will be designated for government employee compensation, according to House Budget Chairman Scott Martin, R-Norman. Employees at the Departments of Corrections and Health/Human Services will be hikes. Further, State government employees designated “the most underpaid” in an employee compensation survey will receive pay hikes under the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget accord.

Martin said the boost to those “most underpaid” will be the first in a five-year plan to provide targeted pay increases for government workers.

Legislative leaders said say there is not majority support for the roughly $40 million in state taxpayer money that would be needed to continue work on the American Indian Cultural Museum in Oklahoma City, matching a reported $40 million in money not from the state.

There appears to be strong momentum, however, for a bond issue of approximately $120 million to finance state Capitol Repairs. Martin and Hickman said the latter would be structured to take advantage of current low interest rates and would be completed within 10 years, saving as much as $100 million interest payments.

You may contact Pat at patrick@capitolbeatok.com