Appropriations bills approved by the Legislature and the Governor become the State’s budget. The Legislature is the law-making body of government. It is made up of a 101-member House of Representatives and 48-member Senate. Each member is elected from districts, representatives for two-year terms and senators for four years. All are limited to 12 years in office (House and Senate combined). The majority party in each body elects leaders who control the agenda and appointments to committees.
Legislators and their fiscal staff use the time leading up to the legislative session to better understand budget needs and set priorities. They review agency requests, estimate the base budget for each agency, meet with constituents and interest groups, and identify needs they hope to see addressed by the final budget.
The Legislature devotes much of its annual session (restricted by the Constitution to the first Monday in February through the last Friday in May) to developing a budget that can win approval of a majority of both chambers and be signed by the Governor. That budget must be within the limitations of the second revenue certification by the Board of Equalization, which comes after the Governor has released the executive budget. The Legislature can, however, appropriate more than the certified estimate if it approves bills that are certified to increase state revenues.
Much of the budgeting work is done in appropriations committees, with the extensive assistance of fiscal staff. Committees are broken into subcommittees that are assigned a number of state agencies with related purposes. Committees are chaired by members of the majority party in the chamber; they also have more members from the majority party than the minority. During the first part of the legislative session the subcommittees and their staff review agency requests, meet with agency heads and develop preliminary budget levels for each agency.
Appropriations bills must be approved by both chambers of the Legislature. Since the chambers have different concerns and may respond to different constituents, they rarely agree on budgets at first. In recent years, budgets have been negotiated by a small group of leaders and staff from the Legislature and Executive branch, leading to the announcement of a budget agreement during the final weeks or days of session. Once an agreement is reached, an omnibus budget bill, known as the General Appropriations (GA) bill, is quickly filed and then heard in conference committee and on the floor of the two chambers. The GA bill provides lump-sum amounts to agencies and typically provides little or no direction on how agencies should allocate funds or absorb funding reductions. Where the GA bill includes additional funds to pay for increased services or pay raises, legislative direction may be provided in legislation or specified in spreadsheets or press releases accompanying the budget. Passage of the budget is typically often contingent on legislative approval of bills that will yield additional revenue to ensure that the budget is balanced.
No appropriations bill takes effect until approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed by the Governor. The Governor does not have to sign each bill; she can sign it, veto it, or veto line-items, which are specific provisions or spending amounts in the bill. Vetoes and line-item vetoes can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature. If overridden, the budget becomes the law as originally passed by the Legislature. If a line-item veto is not overridden the rest of the bill becomes law and establishes the budget. If an entire appropriation bill is vetoed and not overridden, the Legislature must pass, and the Governor eventually sign, a spending bill that is acceptable to all parties.
The GA bill has two features that distinguish it from all other legislation: (1) It can take effect on July 1st with only a simple majority of legislators in each chamber voting for the bill. All other bills require passage of an emergency clause to take effect before November 1st, which requires a two-thirds majority. This means that the state’s budget can be in place by the start of the new fiscal year. (2) The GA bill is exempt from the single-subject rule of the Oklahoma constitution and thus may include funding for multiple government functions and agencies in a single bill.