It’s an understatement to say the future of this legislative session is uncertain. Last Tuesday when legislators left the Capitol, we knew the session would be interrupted for the week, which was already planned for spring break. It seemed likely that, after perhaps a second week away, members would return to work on the budget and pass a variety of bills deemed to be priority or necessary. Beyond that, there was at least a hope by some that things might return to near normal within a few weeks in time to finish some of the bills that were halfway through the process. Legislators suspended deadlines to make that possible. Logically, that seems doubtful now.
Watching and reading news coverage from home, it seems no one can be sure when the worst will hit in a geographical area. Last week, President Trump asked people to take special precautions for 15 days to help “flatten the curve” so as not to overwhelm hospitals and medical facilities. We are about halfway through that, but it seems plausible that all areas of the country are not on the same timeline. In Oklahoma, we seem to have been less affected so far, but that could simply be for lack of testing. So, we really don’t know where we are on the curve.
This results in an interesting perspective from a public policy standpoint. Advocates, including legislators and others, find themselves with mixed emotions. While hoping for an early adjournment that would stop measures that they oppose, they are at the same time wanting the opportunity that a lengthier session would give them to finish bills into which they’ve already put a lot of work. Judging from the actions of legislative leaders so far, I would expect them to act with caution and end the session as soon as practically possible. Hopefully they’ll adopt a policy of “do no harm” before leaving town.
Layered onto the health issue is the budget crisis that both the coronavirus and the Saudi/Russian oil conflict has created. Gov. Stitt said Wednesday the state could face a revenue shortfall in the current budget year. Fortunately, he plans to dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which is at an all-time high, to offset the possible revenue shortfall this year and help balance the fiscal year 2021 budget. In addition, it’s reasonable to expect that a federal stimulus bill will include money for states to avoid widespread layoffs of state and local government workers and a loss of services. In the 2009 economic crisis, the federal stimulus included about $1 billion to Oklahoma, which was used over a three-year period to cushion the downturn. We will all just have to stay tuned.