Here is our assessment of the budget unveiled on Nov. 13th by House and Senate leaders. UPDATE: The new General Appropriations bill, HB 1019X, has now passed the House and Senate and awaits action by the Governor.
Lawmakers had plenty of sensible options for recurring revenues that could have balanced the budget responsibly. Instead, they are doubling down on one-time money and cuts. This is the inevitable but unfortunate consequence of last week’s failed vote in the House of Representatives on HB 1054.
For those fearing the worst cuts, the new budget represents a partial reprieve. Overall funding is just $30 million, or 0.4 percent, less than the budget passed in May, according to our preliminary analysis. It avoids further cuts to Common Educations, Corrections, and several other critical agencies. In addition, it mostly fills the massive shortfalls that were facing the Medicaid agency, DHS and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. This will hopefully allow these agencies to rescind the devastating cuts they would otherwise be forced to make starting December 1st.
But the costs of this new budget will be substantial. A majority of agencies, many of which have seen their funding slashed by 20- 40 percent over the past decade, are hit with a further 2.4 percent cut. The list includes Higher Education, the Arts Council, the Department of Public Safety, and agencies responsible for protecting the environment, providing care to veterans, and ensuring labor standards.
Rather than beginning to climb out of a hole, lawmakers are digging themselves in deeper. The new budget relies on an additional $138 million in one-time dollars from the Rainy Day Fund and multiple agency revolving funds, while using up almost two-thirds of last year’s cash surplus. Along with one-time money appropriated in May, the new budget includes over $480 million in cash. When known obligations are considered, the state is staring at another budget deficit for FY 2019 of some $650 million.
This new budget is another instance of a failed approach that has left Oklahoma stuck in a permanent budget crisis and has led to a steady and continual erosion of the public services Oklahomans expect and deserve. Oklahomans will have to express their dissatisfaction and intensify the pressure to ensure that next session finally brings a different and better approach.