Speaker Charles McCall boots Rep. Leslie Osborn as state House budget and appropriations leader

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, issued a statement on Tuesday (July 18) responding to receipt of notice that would be replaced as House Appropriations & Budget chair.
“Speaker [Charles] McCall’s decision to relieve me of my duties as Chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee is his to make. I am disheartened by his decision, but I am not deterred in my desire to work for the betterment of our wonderful State,” Osborn said in a release sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations.
Osborn said, “Oklahomans are calling out for leadership, and I intend to answer their call. Oklahomans across the state have told me they are utterly disgusted at the divisive way we conduct our business at the State Capitol. It is a sad day when we cannot have an honest conversation about the major financial and budget issues we face as a state. I have always been willing to find solutions through conversations instead of conflict. Be assured, I will continue to stand up for finding achievable solutions to the myriad of problems in Oklahoma that keep us mired in mediocracy.
“I am here to serve and serving Oklahomans is what I intend to do. To that end, I want to say thank you for the overwhelming support I’ve received from members of the House and the public since this news was released. I’m humbled and uplifted by this sincere support. I also appreciate Speaker McCall allowing me the privilege to chair this committee.”
At mid-day Tuesday, Speaker of the House Charles McCall, R-Atoka, named state Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, as chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee. Wallace was vice chair of the committee during the 2017 legislative session.
“Representative Wallace performed very well last session during the most challenging fiscal revenue situation in recent memory,” said Speaker McCall, R-Atoka. “He works well with our entire caucus, and he has the experience, diligence and skillset to serve Oklahoma well in this very important role. I am looking forward to working with him as we continue budget discussions in the coming weeks.”

Wallace is the owner of several small businesses and has served House District 32 since 2014.

“I am very appreciative of the confidence Speaker McCall has in me,” said Rep. Wallace, R-Wellston. “Speaker McCall showed strong leadership last session, and I am looking forward to working with the Speaker as we lead our budget efforts on behalf of Oklahomans during the coming months. There is a lot of work to do between now and the beginning of session, and I am ready to getting started.”

Immediate spark for the disagreement could be dueling legislative statements over administrative decisions at the Department of Human Services (DHS) reducing senior benefits.
Last week, on behalf of  McCall, House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, called those reductions unnecessary. 
A legislative press release on behalf of the Speaker contended there was no need to trim “$30 million from programs that serve senior meals, help keep disabled adults in their homes instead of nursing homes, and serve the state’s foster care and adopted children. This came in a year when the department received an 8.2 percent increase in state appropriations, including $7.7 million in federal matching funds, as well as $34 million in supplemental funding for fiscal year 2017.”
Sanders said, “To cut programs to the most vulnerable instead of taking administrative cuts or cutting programs that would have far less impact on Oklahomans – such as the 211 service hotline, for instance – seems nothing more than a political stunt. Director Ed Lake knows well that by cutting these programs for children and vulnerable adults and seniors he can bring publicity and the most calls to lawmakers.
“Yet, the Legislature did not make these cuts. We do not line item agency spending. Instead we trust our agency heads to be able to make the best decisions about what programs should be spared during tough budget times. These are the times when you forego the wish-list items but you still provide for the most vulnerable.”
Democrats soon fired back at Sanders and McCall. 
“The Speaker is completely out of touch with the challenges we face in Oklahoma. It was evident during the legislative session and is even more clear now,” said Rep. Forrest Bennett (D-Oklahoma City). “DHS has worked to protect child welfare from cuts, but after years of the majority party’s fiscal irresponsibility, it’s simply unavoidable.”
His contentions were echoed in comments from Reps. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, and Emily Virgin, D-Norman.
Reporter Dale Denwalt of The Oklahoman newspaper reported on Tuesday that Osborn – then still chairman of the House Budget panel – said “There’s no doubt that DHS’s costs have grown far in excess of appropriations. Over the last few years, the Legislature has worked hard to increase the appropriation from $672 million to $700 million, but we can’t discount the fact that, during this same period, DHS has faced cost increases and lost revenue totaling at least $175 million. That is obviously far more than the $28 million increase in appropriations.”
Joining Osborn’s comments were state Reps. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, and Pat Ownby, R-Ardmore, who have served as vice-chairmen of appropriations subcommittees.