Politics at the center of recent budget empasse (Capitol Update)

As expected, the legislature met on Monday and passed three appropriations measures designed to use Rainy Day Fund and Revenue Fund Stabilization monies to get the state through the end of the fiscal year without cuts to agency budgets. It seemed that things had gone as planned on Monday night when the legislature left. The budget bills, apparently worked out and vetted by both Democratic and Republican House and Senate members and the governor, passed both chambers unanimously. The governor announced a meeting of the State Board of Equalization to declare a revenue failure needed to free up the Rainy Day funding.

Things began coming unglued when the governor cancelled the Board of Equalization meeting, failed to sign the bill appropriating the Rainy Day Funds and made comments accusing Speaker McCall of playing politics. Thus, began one of those standoffs the public finds distasteful. Without knowing exactly what’s going on behind the scenes, we usually just blame both sides and consider it politics as usual.

But some good reporting has uncovered the source of the problem. It seems Speaker McCall authored a bill (HB 4018 with Sen. James Leewright) to create the Rural Broadband Expansion Council. The 12-member council assembles expertise from rural private and public sector technology professionals, local rural leaders, state government, and academia. The bill charges the council with studying, planning, and estimating the cost for the expansion of rural broadband access and making recommendations to the legislature and the governor. The governor or his staff apparently is opposing the bill.

Yes, this is politics, but it’s also the way our democracy works. HB 4018 is a serious effort by the Speaker, who hails from rural southeastern Oklahoma where broadband coverage is weak, to bring better broadband service to the rural areas of Oklahoma. Solving problems like this, which affect the lives of their constituents and others similarly situated, is why people run for the legislature and want to serve. It’s important to the Speaker, while he can do so, to make progress in bringing better broadband coverage to rural Oklahoma and to get it right. The governor and his people apparently don’t feel the need for any input from others on rural broadband expansion, so the Speaker has to get their attention. That’s what’s going on.


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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