Competing budget transparency efforts may have made process more confusing than ever (Capitol Update)

The House last week revealed its position on the Fiscal Year 2025 budget that begins on July 1 and upstaged the Senate’s transparency gambit with a new “transparency portal” that can be accessed on the House of Representatives website. The portal, which is a series of spreadsheets, compares the House and the Senate positions on each agency budget. Even with the talk of — and effort toward — transparency, the budget process this year seems more confusing than ever. 

The Senate began its budget process early in the session with subcommittee hearings that culminated in a resolution adopted by the appropriations committee and the full Senate. The House developed its budget more traditionally with discussions between the subcommittee members and chairs and Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, Chair of the full Appropriations Committee. There was little or no consultation between the chambers, and the numbers and descriptors do not always match. 

More confusing, the amount to be appropriated has yet to be settled between the two chambers. The Senate budget appropriates $13.7 billion while the House spends $12.63 billion, a huge difference of more than $1 billion. The House allows for a .25 percent cut in the income tax rate, which would cost about $96 million for Fiscal Year 2025 and $230 million annually when fully implemented. Senate leaders have said the Senate will not consider any further tax cuts this year after the elimination of the state sales tax on groceries.

Adding to the dilemma, Gov. Kevin Stitt has sided with the House, demanding the income tax cut, and he has said he may veto any budget coming to him without it. It would be nothing new for the governor to veto the budget. So long as the House and the Senate ultimately get on the same page, the two chambers will have the votes to override the gubernatorial veto as they have in the past. But if they don’t, it could be a long and frustrating budget effort.

Another factor making it difficult to understand the two budgets is the expenditure of one-time funds. The legislature has effectively impounded revenue the past few years which makes huge sums available for one-time funding. How much of the total in each budget is one-time money is difficult to know.

The Senate is saying negotiations between the two chambers to resolve their budget differences will be conducted by the two chairmen, Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, and Rep. Wallace. It’s doubtful these discussions will be in public. With such a large difference between the two publicly revealed budget proposals, and with so many unresolved issues, it may be that the real budget, of necessity, will be written in private.



Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.