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A Mostly Standstill Budget for OK Agencies

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News, Politics.
May 29, 2012

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A $6.8 billion budget for the 2013 fiscal year awaits the signature of the governor.

The estimate for the next year’s appropriations came in about $200 million more than the previous year.

But, most agencies ended up getting the same amount as 2012.

The State House of Representatives waits till the last minute to try and get every bill out of the chamber before the final deadline of 5pm.

But, finally House Speaker Kris Steele for his last time bangs the gavel to end the session.

The General Appropriations budget coming to $6.8 billion passed the House on its second try.

The first coming to a 47 to 47 tie before getting five members to side with Republican leadership.

The most notable increases in the budget are going to the Department of Human Services and Transportation.

DHS is getting an extra $25 million for the Pinnacle Plan to increase the number of front line child care workers and provide pay raises.

The Department of Transportation is getting $99 million more than last year.

But Democratic Minority Leader Scott Inman says that just replaces money taken out during the 2011 session to keep the eight-year road and bridge project on schedule.

“This year fortunately decided to put that money back which we appreciate, but they’re sort of beating their chest saying look what all we’ve done for the Department of Transportation, we’re giving them so much more money, but in reality it’s simply a numbers game , and they’re just paying them back what they owe them.”

Meanwhile, the 2013 budget doesn’t include any extra money for common education.

“Having the legislature say that this is a flat budget is not only inaccurate, but dishonest.”

Oklahoma Education Association Executive Director Lela Odom says public schools across  the state have added more than 20,000 students since 2009, but they are having to deal with $252 million less.

“We’re not whole yet and we still see less and less money so class sizes get larger materials get short. Custodians have to buy their own supplies. Teachers have to buy their own paper.”

The House and Senate did match an earlier supplemental of more than $52 million dollars to pay for Flex Benefits and bonuses for National Board Certified Teachers.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman says they also added a line item in the budget requiring the Department of Ed to use $33 million only for text books.

“I think there’s some flexibility that they can use that since the budget shortfalls over the last few years they can use that. There’s flexibility for the local districts that they can use the money. We want to make sure we get the money out to the schools.”

While the budget has Democrats upset, there’s also a push from conservative groups like the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

The OCPA says millions of dollars could be reduced by cutting funding to things like OETA, libraries and the Arts Council.

OCPA President Michael Carnuccio says Oklahoma has a spending problem.

“We haven’t cut any waste, any inefficiency. We are funding rodeos and golf courses. So the message to the people of Oklahoma is we can’t get a tax deal done because we have to fund museums, golf courses and rodeos.”

Conservatives in the House and Senate also came out strong against three bond issues which were part of the budget deal.

Another part of the budget which failed was a tax cut which seemed all but certain to pass when the final week began.

But the House felt the plan crafted by the Governor and leaders would have raised taxes on some.

Kris Steele who’s facing term limits says over the past 12 years going from the minority party to the leader of the State House  he’s learned to never give up and look at all angles.

“There have been issues that we’ve worked on, I’ve worked on that I thought I knew the answer before I really studied and figured it out, only to realize it’s much more complicated and complex and affects a lot more people than I had originally realized. So, I think it has something to do with determination and perseverance.”

Lawton Representative TW Shannon has been elected to take the House Speaker position next year if Republicans retain their majority.

The money left over without the tax cut, estimated to between $15 million and $35 million, will not be appropriated until the legislature convenes in February of next year.

The budget takes effect on July First.

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