Last year’s voucher push prompts Senate to commit to budget transparency 

It’s going to be interesting to see how the new, more transparent appropriations process works in the Senate next session. Dissatisfaction with the process seemed to reach a high-water mark in the Senate last session. 

According to Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, the Senate last year was so focused on school choice (using public tax dollars for private schools) that many senators didn’t have adequate time to consider the final appropriations bill. 

I think there were really two problems. First, as Sen. Treat said, the final agreement on school choice, which dictated the size of the education budget, came so late it was impossible to know — even for Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs — how much would remain for the rest of state government. 

The second problem was the amount of funding consumed by the education appropriation came as a shock to most Senators, nearly all of whom were not involved in the education negotiations. 

After twiddling their thumbs for weeks, Senators learned much of the available funding was gone. New education funding, including money for the state aid formula (including funding for teacher pay raises) money outside the formula directed primarily to rural schools to get rural legislators and their school administrators to go along with the private school tax credits, and money for the tax credits themselves came to around $800 million, more than 2/3 of the $1.1 billion available for appropriation. After twiddling their thumbs for weeks, Senators learned much of the available funding was gone.

The new appropriations process includes Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, allocating funds to the appropriations subcommittees in December after the Board of Equalization makes its first certification of funds available for appropriation. The subcommittees will hold budget hearings during December and January and develop a subcommittee budget. 

In February and March, the full appropriations committee will hear bills with a fiscal impact and adopt subcommittee budgets culminating in a full Senate version of the budget by voice vote. In a floor vote in March, the full Senate in a floor vote will adopt a budget resolution that will form the basis for negotiations with the House and Governor. After the House, Senate and Governor reach an agreement, the appropriations bills will be filed, passed, and sent to the Governor for signature in May. As I said, it will be interesting. Kudos to the Senate for trying to improve the process.



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.