Oklahoma lawmakers advance $6.8 billion at midnight
June 2nd, 2017
Tuesday at the Oklahoma Capitol ended with leadership introducing two long-awaited budget bills.
The proposals, each estimated to be $6.8 billion in spending for state agencies and programs, were introduced to House lawmakers at 11:14 p.m.
One bill included a teacher pay raise and the other didn’t.
The House budget committee was asked to vote on the bills within 46 minutes, by midnight, because of a legislative deadline. Both passed that committee, and senators adjourned after 1 a.m. without hearing the teacher pay version.
The bill without a teacher pay raise would have cut most state agencies by about 5 percent except for ones that are considered part of the state’s core services, like common education, corrections and the state’s Medicaid agency. Those agencies would presumably receive a nearly flat budget compared with last year.
The other bill would have implemented cuts of 8 percent to pay for an increase in the minimum teacher salary schedule.
Leadership came under fire by rank-and-file lawmakers because the massive bills were handed to them without a sheet summarizing about 170 line items.
House Budget Chairwoman Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, said lawmakers will have several days to read the bills before they’re introduced on the floor.
“We put together what we could with 51-vote measures,” Osborn said late Tuesday night, referencing the kinds of revenue bills needed to raise money without Democratic support. “These are horrible funding levels. We are massively underfunded in state government.”
Osborn said that summaries and analyses of the budget bills would be available to lawmakers and the public by the time people got to work Wednesday morning.
Other representatives and senators derided the late-night meetings as the least transparent budget process they’ve seen.
Unlike in previous years, the budget was released without fanfare or explanation, partly owing to the late nature of its introduction. Revenue negotiations lingered until Monday, when leadership began pushing the 51-vote bills across the floor. The deadline to finish their work is Friday.
There were no news releases, no news conferences. After Osborn announced the last vote of the committee, she adjourned the meeting.
Then it was Wednesday.