Most Oklahoma agencies see cuts, but there’s a big exception (The Oklahoman)

By Rick Green

Oklahoma lawmakers want to boost funding for legislative services by $4 million even as they cut appropriations for most other agencies. 

Under a budget proposal making its way through the Legislature, funding for the Legislative Service Bureau, which does research and provides computer services for lawmakers, would grow to $13.89 million per year.

That’s a $9 million, or 184 percent increase, $5 million of which is offset by proposed cuts to Senate and House appropriations. 

House Rep. Earl Sears said the increase makes sense in order to ensure salaries will continue to be funded.

“We will be in the red if we don’t do something,” Sears said. “We wouldn’t be able to make payroll at a date in the future.”

House Speaker Jeff Hickman said his chamber has cut back on payroll.

“We’ve consolidated positions, laid people off, and because of the budget situation, we have burned through our reserves over the last several years,” he said.

Presently, each legislative chamber pays the salaries of its own lawmakers. Under this proposal, the Legislative Service Bureau will pay those salaries.

The salaries for the 101 representatives and 48 senators are set at $38,400 a year, plus per diem, and will not increase through this proposal.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said his chamber also has reduced spending on its staff. This year, it also is contributing $1.5 million from one of its savings accounts to be used in the budget.

“Since 2009, the Senate has cut its full-time staff by more than 30 percent, and I have cut the size of the staff in the pro tem’s office by 33 percent. Just like most state agencies, the Senate is taking a budget cut as a result of the financial crisis gripping the state,” he said.

David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said increases in funding for the Legislative Service Bureau are wholly inappropriate in a difficult economic environment.

“This is a $4 million increase for the Legislature at a time when every area of government is slashed, including life-threatening cuts in mental health and human services. It’s unconscionable.”

Most state agencies are taking cuts of more than 5 percent this year as the state struggles with tax revenue shortfalls.

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