UPDATE: Budget Deal Passes Senate; Headed To Governor’s Office

State Senators on Friday approved a final budget measure, passing a measure that cuts $60 million from more than four dozen state agencies, taps the state’s Rainy Day fund for $23 million and earmarks about $83 million in carryover and revolving funds.

Final vote in the Senate was 29-14.

The measure passed the House of Representatives Wednesday by a vote of 56-38.  The bill, House Bill 1019, includes spending cuts for the Ethics Commission, the Department of Human Services and the State Regents for Higher Education. The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin for review. Fallin is expected to sign the measure.

Earlier this week, Rep. Kevin Wallace, R- Lincoln, the chairman of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget, said universities who received cuts could raise tuition at their own discretion to replace the lost revenue.

Representative David Perryman, D-Caddo, said the reason lawmakers were in this mess was because of decisions made years ago. One of the state’s most pressing needs and concerns of our society was opioid abuse, Perryman said. “In the past ten years the Department of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control has had an excess of 64 percent budget cuts.”

Wallace said the opioid epidemic is a national issue. He said the issue wasn’t affected by Oklahoma’s budget cuts. He said funds needed for agencies was considered when House Bill 1019, the legislation which includes the funding cut, was written.

Still, House Bill 1019 cuts funding for several state agencies including the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control.

State Representative Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, said House Bill 1910 will reduce funding for concurrent classes at state community colleges. Nollas said the concurrent enrollment program will take a 75 percent cut in funding. Wallace said his daughter is currently taking concurrent classes. He said lawmakers should consider increasing funding for the program.

Along with agency funding reductions, lawmakers passed HB 1028 which requires the Department of Health to submit a corrective action report to the legislature by January 1, 2018. The bill also provides for a 15 percent reduction in state appropriations.

Wallace said the bill will take care of all agencies. He said the Department of Mental Health will receive an extra $1.3 million and the Department of Human Services would about $1 million left over. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse will be cut more than $3 million, leaving appropriations for FY 2018 at $300 million dollars.

Officials with DHS expect the agency to take about $4 million in cuts. The agency’s fiscal year 2018 appropriations is projected to be more than $700 million, a $40 million increase since FY 2016.

Wallace said he believes a lot of agencies have been given misinformation about proposed budget cuts.

Representative Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah, said last week’s failure of HB 1054 was due to an orchestrated vote, and legislators should be as disgusted. He argued protesters from the oil and gas industry who went to the capitol last week were paid for their efforts.

“It was reaffirmed yesterday that we played games last week with an orchestrated vote on a bill that would have helped the state of Oklahoma before without cuts,” he said. “We were told that if our caucus could bring 75 percent of our votes that bill would have passed; well ladies and gentlemen this caucus brought 85 percent.”

Meredith said the bill failed because twelve chairs, including the co-author of the bil — Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Sallisaw — voted no.

House Bill 1054 included a four percent gross production tax for the first 36 months of new wells. Meredith said controversy over the gross production tax was the reason several members of the house flipped their vote.

Under the Oklahoma Constitution, revenue raising measures must have a three-fourths vote in both houses of the legislature before they can be sent to the governor’s desk.

Troy Stevenson, Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma, wrote on social media that the state’s oil and gas industry have “literally paid for and bussed in fake protestors to sway your vote.”

Stevenson said a no vote meant legislators were siding with big oil over the needs of the mentally ill, the elderly, teachers, state employees, and those living in poverty.

“Make no mistake, the revenue package is far from perfect, but it helps more of your constituents than it will ever harm,” Stevenson said.

Legislators argued the bill was pushed through the last day prior to voting, because it would be easier to pass.

House Bill 1019 passed Wednesday afternoon, after more than an hour of debate. The vote was 56 to 38.

Lawmakers also shot down House Bill 1027. That measure,  introduced by State Representative John Bennett, R-Sequoyah, would prevent the Department of Public Safety from reducing the salary of any state trooper, imposing furloughs on state troopers, or taking any other action to reduce the total time a state trooper is available for the performance of law enforcement duties.

Representative Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, argued the bill was an unfunded mandate because it does not include funding.

Perryman said agencies have moved their money around illegally in the past because they are not receiving funding. He said it was arrogant for legislators to request agencies “find” money for their employees.

“If we don’t give any new money to public safety then wouldn’t logic tell us that if they don’t have the money they need then they would have to reduce staff doing the opposite of what you want them to do?” Dunnington said.

Bennett said he has his own views on the budget. He said he thinks it only make sense we protect the core services by reassuring those included in the bill keep their pay.

The bill failed.


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