Oklahoma’s budget process begins (Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Steve Lewis
Steve Lewis

This is the time of year when state agency boards and directors are approving their budget requests for FY 2016.  Most agencies had a set of internal deadlines to prepare their budget request for consideration at their September board meetings.  The requests are due to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) on October 1st

OMES is the budget office for the executive branch, which means the governor.  During the time between October 1stand February when the legislature convenes OMES will compile all the agency budget requests and gather the information the agencies are using to justify them.  Most agencies use their budget requests to lay out how they would really like to provide services to Oklahomans if they had the necessary resources.  When OMES adds them up naturally there are more requests than money.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican there are always going to be more needs than money.  In February the governor will present his or her budget to the legislature.  The catch for the governor is that his or her budget cannot request more money than the State Equalization Board has certified to be available. 

The budget process can be a mystery.  In a sense neither the agency requests nor the governor’s budget are “real.”  The agencies request funding they know they won’t get, and the governor’s choices, especially nowadays in the era of smaller government don’t come close to providing adequate funding.  When there is “new” money, meaning more money available than last year it creates a free for all among agencies and various providers of state government services like mental health, health, corrections and education.  It’s important to get your needs included in the agency and governor’s budget, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  The legislature and the governor have to come to a final agreement before it counts. 

Most people would agree that tight budgets in government are a good thing.  Tight budgets require priorities to be set and programs that don’t work to be eliminated.  But when state government is not properly funding the responsibilities it has such as schools, public safety and health it’s almost unsightly to see good people trying to provide quality services fighting among themselves over the few dollars available.  When it’s said and done the budget process seems to give everyone an excuse, and the public is left to wonder what really happened.

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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.

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