Capitol Insider: Action Close To Fill State Budget Gap
After a two week impasse, the Board of Equalization is prepared to meet to address the State of Oklahoma's current year revenue failure. This comes as legislators seek to craft the next state budget and Governor Kevin Stitt looks at ways to restart the state's economy. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley discuss the latest news from under the dome.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, legislative work on the budget had been stymied because the State Board of Equalization’s April 6th meeting was canceled. Legislative leaders filed suit to require the board to meet and declare a revenue failure for the current fiscal year. But Governor Stitt has scheduled the board to meet this Monday afternoon, at which time they are expected to address the revenue failure.
Shawn Ashley: That's right. Things have been moving rather quickly in terms of dealing with the anticipated revenue failure. As you mentioned, that April 6th meeting was canceled. And on Tuesday, legislative leaders filed a lawsuit seeking a writ of mandamus to require the Board of Equalization to meet and to declare that revenue failure on Tuesday. Governor Stitt said there was really no rush, that they could continue until May with the current money that they had without having to declare a revenue failure or cut state budgets. Now, the meeting is scheduled for Monday, and it does appear that the board will consider declaring a revenue failure, which would make available money appropriated in Senate Bill 199 for the General Revenue Fund.
Dick Pryor: What is the state's current revenue situation?
Shawn Ashley: Well, when the Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported their figures on Tuesday, Oklahoma had not yet experienced a revenue failure. The office reported that the first nine month’s collections were 7.6 percent below the estimate or 1.5 percent. And that percentage is important because there's a 5 percent built-in cushion in the state appropriation process. Anything over 5 percent below is a revenue failure, which is what they're anticipating. Office of Management and Enterprise Services Director Steve Hart noted that the March collections really don't reflect the impact of these low oil prices and the impact of the shutdown of the economy due to COVID-19.
Dick Pryor: What are the next steps in the appropriation process - keeping in mind the legislature is supposed to wrap up its work in six weeks?
Shawn Ashley: You know, we're in sort of a usual kind of position right now for the middle of April. If you talk to any people involved in the budget, and Governor Stitt said this on Tuesday, budget negotiations are ongoing. Back on April 6, both the House and the Senate filed the shell bills, which the joint committees on appropriation and budget will use to actually implement the budget.
Dick Pryor: How could that work and timetable be affected by social distancing and remote meetings?
Shawn Ashley: We really don't know that yet. In fact, in speaking with reporters on Friday, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said he did not know when lawmakers would actually be returning to the Capitol full time. So both the Senate and the House are gearing up for the possibility that they may have to conduct some of this business remotely or in other cases, specifically in the House with proxy votes.
Dick Pryor: Shawn, Governor Stitt is moving toward restarting the economy by doing a phased an opening of businesses and services. What's his plan?
Shawn Ashley: Well, right now, what he's doing is he's talking to various industry groups, churches and other organizations in order to get them to develop guidelines for how they might begin moving back toward a normal state of affairs. At the same time, he's keeping a careful eye on the various data points related to infections in the state of Oklahoma and talking with local health officials.
Dick Pryor: The latest predictions indicate Oklahoma will not reach its peak until April 30th. And while Oklahoma has not been hit as hard as more populous states, there is concern about how the virus is going to impact rural areas and hospitals. And a lot of people in Oklahoma are already at-risk because about 20 percent of Oklahomans fit into the at-risk population due to underlying health conditions. How is the state preparing for a possible surge?
Shawn Ashley: While the state has developed a plan in anticipation of that surge, what they ask hospitals to do is essentially increase their bed space by approximately 40 percent. Then they are also working with hospitals in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in case those numbers are even greater than what was anticipated. As part of the governor's most recent executive order, he has extended the safer at home recommendations for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions until May 6.
Dick Pryor: All right. That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, email us at news@KGOU.ORG or contact us on Twitter @KGOUnews. You can also find us online at KGOU.ORG or ECAPITOL.NET. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.