Public budget discussions are an opportunity to gain a better appreciation of the state budget process (Capitol Update)

The past week was largely consumed with off-and-on budget negotiations between House and Senate leadership and appropriations subcommittee chairs. 

Although it was the third-to-last week of the session, there was little floor action in either chamber. Moreover, some bills on which conference committees have been requested have yet to have conferees appointed. 

I have wondered why with so little time left, the work on substantive measures not related to the budget has nearly stopped while the budget negotiations are in progress. It could be because, in the past, negotiations at this stage have for the most part taken place in private offices or meeting rooms, sometimes with those participating in the negotiations running back and forth to make floor votes. Or negotiators have met in the evenings or on weekends.

I’m not sure how much the public in general wants to see of these budget negotiations. But for those with interest and time to watch, the negotiations are an opportunity to gain a better appreciation of the state budget process and those who write the budget. If nothing else, the people watching have been treated, for the most part, to civil discussions by knowledgeable legislators doing the work they were elected to do to the best of their ability.

Yes, sometimes disagreements may be ego driven, and some are tactical. But most are driven by the desire to do the right thing in the end. All four million Oklahomans can’t sit down together and agree on how they want their tax money used, so these few are chosen each year to fight it out using words and the best logic they can produce. It’s no surprise there will be some occasional anger expressed and a few impasses, but in the end, they’ll get the budget done.

The state of play at the end of the week was that Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, wanted an agreement from House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, that if both chambers reached a budget agreement, they would override a veto by the governor if one occurred. McCall was unwilling to make that agreement, so the week ended in an impasse. 

Treat likely wants the veto override agreement because the governor has been adamant about an income tax cut, and McCall has agreed with him. Treat apparently doesn’t want to make the budget concessions he would have to make to get to agreement with the House only to have the governor veto the deal after the Senate has made concessions.

It will be interesting to watch this play out this week. I’m tempted to make predictions, but…not gonna do it.


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.