Misused lottery money digs Oklahoma in deeper budget hole (KFOR)

By Lorne Fultonberg

OKLAHOMA CITY – Unconstitutional spending last year means state lawmakers will have to pay the lottery millions before it begins to set the state’s education budget.

The Board of Equalization determined last month the state supplanted the education budget with $10 million from the lottery.

Under law, lottery money may only be used as a sort of bonus on top of education funding.

It may not take the place of regular funding.

“Clearly, we’ve had a problem,” said David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “Education funding has been cut year after year. This is the first time, however, they’ve been able to say this is at least in part attributable to lottery money not being used as intended.”

Relatively speaking, $10 million is a small chunk of the state’s roughly $7 billion – and even the education department’s approximately $2.5 billion budget.

But, in a year when lawmakers are already struggling to figure out how to fill a nearly $900 million budget deficit, every dollar counts.

“It means going forward that not only this year do they have to be extra careful, so as to not violate the Constitution again and supplant more money from public education, but it means they’ve also got to go out and find an extra ten million dollars to make up for those cuts,” said Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City), who sits on the Appropriations and Budget Committee tasked with balancing the books. “Where they find the money, I’m not exactly sure. We’ve got a mess that our public school children unfortunately are the ones that are having to live with it.”

It’s not clear the misappropriation was intentional, Blatt told NewsChannel 4, though it is regrettable it happens seven months after the fiscal year began.

The chair of the appropriations committee did not return calls seeking comment Monday afternoon, while a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin suggested the budgeting is often done with estimations, which means things can change.

“This is the first time a finding of supplanting has been made, and the Board [of Equalization] carried out its responsibility regarding the finding,” said Spokesman Michael McNutt. “The Legislature will need to take up the process from here and act in accordance with the law.”

Inman said the legislature has a few months to try to rectify things and they have an obligation to do a better job than legislatures past.

“My hope is the folks in charge will find real revenue so that we can invest in education this coming year,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll be back in a situation where they’re trying to rob education to pay for something else, and that’s unconstitutional.”


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