Claremore Daily Progress

May 2, 2013

Legislators, governor reach deal on budget

Sean Murphy
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY —

Leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature reached an agreement Thursday with Gov. Mary Fallin on how to divide about $7 billion in available revenue among various state agencies.
Fallin declined to release specific details of the agreement, but confirmed that a deal had been reached. 
A formal announcement with GOP leaders was scheduled Thursday afternoon.
The governor said the agreement reflected the priorities she stressed in her executive budget, which included major boosts in funding for public education and the state’s Medicaid and child welfare programs.
“We have reached an agreement on our priorities for the state and the funding sources for those,” Fallin said. 
“It’s a budget that is fair and doable and puts money toward important priorities like health, education and mental health services.”
House and Senate Republican both held caucus meetings Thursday morning to discuss the proposal, and House Speaker T.W. Shannon said the deal was well received by the rank-and-file members, although he declined to discuss the agreement further.
“I don’t want to speak out of turn,” Shannon, R-Lawton, told reporters. “We’ll have some details to share (Thursday afternoon).”
The $7 billion that was certified for legislators to dole out is about $217 million more than they spent on last year’s budget. 
Senate Democratic Leader Sean Burrage said “Once again, we are asking our hard working school teachers and administrators to do more with less.  While the Republicans who put this deal together will tout the ‘increased funding’ to education in this budget over last year, education is still getting $200 million less than they did in 2008. In the meantime, we have asked our schools to implement rigorous reforms aimed at improving the educational outcomes of Oklahoma’s children. But how can we expect our teachers, staff and administrators to be successful in these efforts when we refuse to give them the funds needed to accomplish what we are asking of them?”
 “In addition, we’re already seeing the impact of recent ‘reforms’ reflected in this budget,” Burrage said. “Just last week, we passed a workers’ compensation bill that was supposed to save us money and increase efficiencies in our workers’ compensation system. But, this ‘reform’ is already costing us an additional $1.5 million for the Workers’ Compensation Commission in this budget – an increase of more than 35 percent over FY 2013. At this rate we’re going to go broke saving money.”
 “Finally, we just passed a tax cut that will save the average hard-working Oklahoman less than 25 cents a day,” Burrage said. “But, when you add all those quarters up, it means $233 million that could be used to restore the funding cuts to our local schools, reduce class sizes, ensure our rural schools don’t get shuttered and consolidated, or give our teachers, state employees or our Highway Patrol a well-deserved raise.”
Legislators also have access to additional money in various state accounts that can be used to shore up the budget.
House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Scott Martin, a key budget negotiator for the House, said earlier this week he was optimistic this year’s budget would include an extra $75 million to $100 million in additional funding for public education.
Fallin said a key to reaching a deal was an agreement last week on a plan to cut taxes, overhaul the workers’ compensation system and develop an eight-year, pay-as-you-go approach to selling state assets to pay for capital maintenance.
The tax cut, which was given final legislative approval in the House on Wednesday, calls for a reduction in the top rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent — effective Jan. 1, 2015 — with a second cut to 4.85 percent in 2016 if state revenues continue to rise. 
Because the implementation of the tax cut was delayed, however, the estimated $237 million total impact on the state budget won’t be realized for several years.