Senate’s efforts on budget transparency continue, but final budget will still rely on end-of-session negotiations (Capitol Update)

The State Senate seems to be proceeding with its new appropriations process intended to be more transparent and to give more senators input into appropriations decision making. Last week, the Health and Human Services Subcommittee made its recommendations for the Senate version of the Fiscal Year 2025 state budget (which starts on July 1, 2024) to the full Appropriations Committee, which adopted the recommendations. 

The Education Subcommittees voted on its recommendations, which will be presented to the full committee. The various subcommittees consist of senators who may or may not be on the full Appropriations Committee. Once the full Appropriations Committee approves all the subcommittee recommendations, the Senate will adopt a budget resolution that will be the Senate’s negotiating position with the House and governor.

Much of the early work by the subcommittees was thrown out when the Senate passed and sent to the governor the elimination of the sales tax on groceries. Subcommittees were working with new funding anticipated to be something over $450 million. Passage of the tax cut removed at least $312 million from that number for FY25 at about the time the subcommittees were ready to make their decisions. 

I never understood how the early budget decision making on the Senate side was going to work anyway. Passage of various measures during the session will affect the bottom line, and those measures must be tacitly agreed upon if not passed before the final budget can be agreed upon. The legislature seldom knows until nearer the end of session how much will need to be calculated in the final budget for the bills they pass during session. 

A good example is House Bill 4013 by Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, that passed out of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Finance last week. The measure would earmark $200 million off the top of the state income tax each year for the next four years beginning in FY25 to catch up with deferred maintenance of properties in higher education institutions. If the bill passes, that $200 million would be unavailable for appropriation for the remainder of the state budget. 

Sen. Roger Thompson, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, acknowledged the Senate budget numbers are “subject to change,” saying it’s a dynamic process, a fluid process, a work in progress. The new appropriations process — with the promise of more participation and more transparency — was an outgrowth of the sour taste left by last year’s session. The fight last session over education dollars and the expenditure of $150 million — growing soon to $250 million — for private education vouchers held up the budget until literally the last minute, even causing the budget to be passed during the special session. 

It is a noble effort to try to make the appropriations process more transparent and open to all senators. However, the state budget is almost always going to depend on other revenue and spending policy decisions made earlier in the session. And it’s going to be the product of negotiations near the end of session.


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.