By Patrick McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – A budget proposal with support from Governor Mary Fallin, House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman, R-Fairview, and Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, is not particularly popular, but many legislators indicated a willingness to pass it this week.
At 11:08 p.m. Wednesday night, ending a marathon work session at the Capitol, the House of Representative passed budget particulars, but not overwhelmingly.
The general appropriations vote was 54-42, with three solons not participating, and two seats vacant. (The measure had to have at least 51 votes to stay on track). President Pro Temp Bingman said the upper chamber would take up the budget on Friday.
As the last remaining significant issue before elected officials began to edge through the process, it appeared that the 2015 legislative session might end this week. The House, in particular, might have to work late on Friday to make that happen.
Distilling the clash of visions over current state fiscal policy, the Sooner State’s two best-known policy organizations had contrasting perspectives on the budget framework on track toward enactment.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), the state’s leading free-market “think tank,” issued a methodical criticism of the budget, as did the progressive-leaning Oklahoma Policy Institute. But the groups had sharply different reasons for their unhappiness about the spending outline.
In a TIP (Truth in Policy) Sheet released late Wednesday, OCPA used restrained language but the conservative analysis was clear.
Contrary to contentions that major spending reductions are in the offing, the accord, in the words of OCPA Vice President Jonathan Small, “Increases appropriated spending over the prior year by more than $17 million. The media and some policymakers have consistently reported that the state has a budget shortfall of $611 million.”
Further, he said, the agreement “Increases the use of one-time funds for the budget from $291 million to $485 million, an increase of $194 million or 66 percent. Prior use of one-time funds is a major factor in the current shortfall faced by lawmakers.”
And, the accord, if enacted with the provisions outlined Tuesday, “increases appropriations for eight agencies, cuts appropriations for 49 and holds several agencies flat including the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the Oklahoma Senate and the Legislative Services Bureau.”
The budget agreement also “Cuts transportation funding for maintenance of roads and bridges.” Further, OCPA says, it “Continues to fund rodeos, roping contests, festivals, an aquarium, attempts at space travel, losses on golf-courses, taxpayer subsidized horse racing, state subsidized TV and numerous other non-core functions.”
OK Policy, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK on Tuesday, said the budget proposal “ignores sensible revenue options by allowing a tax cut to go forward that was never meant to happen in these conditions and failing to do anything about wasteful tax breaks, such as the double deduction for state income tax.
“The result is a budget that does not keep up with rising costs for common education and health care and continues to ratchet down support for the arts, economic development, state parks, and other areas that are already at least 20 percent below pre-recession funding levels.”
In the overview circulated from OK Policy’s Gene Perry wrote that under the agreement, “Oklahomans can expect continued teacher shortages and larger class sizes, higher fees and tuition, and less access to medical care, among the many bad consequences of this budget.
“The budget deal barely maintains some vital services only by using up hundreds of millions in one-time revenues that will immediately dig another large budget hole for next year. Oklahoma will not be able to kick this can down the road much longer. Legislators should reject this budget and demand a balanced plan that includes sustainable revenue options.”