Lawmakers increase their appropriation while cutting others in state budget (Tulsa World)

By Barbara Hoberock

OKLAHOMA CITY — While agencies across the state are taking budget cuts, the Legislature has increased its appropriation, according to a proposal that came out Tuesday.

The House, Senate and Legislative Services Bureau will see a combined increase of nearly $3.8 million, if the proposal for the state budget goes through.

The Legislative Services Bureau provides staffing, research and computer services to the House and Senate.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, on Wednesday discussed the issue on the Senate floor while explaining the fiscal year 2017 budget proposal that lawmakers are considering.

Under questioning from Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, Jolley said he would refer questions to the House regarding how much of a deficit the lower chamber is running.

Jolley said the House is not taking the same cut as the Senate but he suspected the House was “seeing an increase.”

“As I understand, House leadership is saying they are to the point they will not be able to provide salaries to employees or will furlough staff,” Jolley said. “I can tell you the Senate is taking a hit. I cannot tell you the House is doing the same.”

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said part of the increase to the House is to restore cuts made during the revenue failure earlier this year.

State-appropriated agencies were forced to make reductions following a revenue failure. Most of those agencies will not see the funds restored.

“It is unconscionable that the Legislature is giving itself a huge funding increase while every other area of state government is being cut,” said David Blatt, Oklahoma Policy Institute director. “How do we explain to seniors, those with mental illness and developmental disabilities that their services are being slashed when there’s an added $4 million going to the Legislature?”

“The Senate will have $1.6 million less to spend in fiscal year 2017 under the budget agreement,” said Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “The Senate’s appropriation was reduced by 25 percent and we contributed another 13 percent above and beyond that from our revolving funds to help close the budget gap.”

In a spreadsheet handed out to lawmakers and the press on Tuesday, the budget proposal indicates the House and Senate are taking a 25 percent cut from the original fiscal year 2016 appropriation. They are taking a 19.35 percent cut from the revised appropriation after the revenue failure.

Meanwhile, the Legislative Services Bureau saw an increase of 183.94 percent.

Jolley said the large increase was due to the transfer of lawmakers’ salaries and benefits from the House and Senate into the Legislative Services Bureau.

“While legislative leaders are lecturing schools about finding efficiencies, the House has decided to extend its credit limit and go back to the ATM (automated teller machine),” said Senate Minority Leader John Sparks, D-Norman.


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