Right now at the state Capitol, the Legislature is working on a tough budget for the upcoming fiscal year, 2010. It often seems nothing is happening from the time the governor submits a budget in February until an agreement rises from the Capitol as if a new pope had been elected, usually in early May. What’s going on in there? An upcoming product from OK Policy will shed light on this and many other mysteries of Oklahoma budget and taxes.
OK Policy will soon release the Online Guide to Oklahoma Budget and Taxes. We’re excited about this first of its kind online guide to how government finance and policy work in Oklahoma. It’s a simple, plain-English look at government spending, revenues, budget processes, and important policy issues Oklahoma faces in the years ahead. It will be different from any other product on Oklahoma budget and taxes because 1) it will cover all state spending, not just appropriations; 2) it will include basics on local governments–what they do and how they are financed; 3) it will take a serious look at two major problems–our inequitable tax system and the looming long-term fiscal deficits at every level of government–and offer serious options for addressing them; and 4) it will be online, so it can be readily updated, linked to sources for more information, and easily searchable.
Here’s an excerpt from the primer’s section on the budget process that might help shed some light on a dark process:
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 two chambers: the 101-member House of Representatives and the 48-member Senate. Each member is elected from a district, representatives for two-year terms and senators for four years. All are limited to 12 years in office. 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 to 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. 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.
As with most bills, appropriations 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. Differences are worked out by the General Conference Committee on Appropriations (GCCA), which include many, often a majority, of the members of both chambers. The GCCA process is directed by the leadership of both chambers, who typically agree on amounts to allocate to each of GCCA’s subcommittees. The subcommittees in turn agree on budgets for every agency. Allocations and agency budgets often are discussed with the Governor so the final product can be signed into law. The Legislature often adopts a general appropriation bill during this period to fund agencies at an agreed base level. During the remainder of the session other budget bills are adopted to increase or decrease funding from the general appropriations bill.
No appropriations bill takes effect until approved by both chambers of the Legislature and signed by the Governor. The Governor does not have to sign each bill; he 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 chambers 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.
Keep watching the blog–we’ll offer weekly primer excerpts that will help you understand what’s going on each week. Please comment on what you think should be in this kind of product and how you think you could use it. If we don’t get the ideas into the first version we’ll get ’em in the updates.
Meanwhile, those wanting to know more about what goes on during the legislative session can see OK Policy’s Legislative Primer 2009 for a look at the legislative process, key players, and budget issues.