Representative Kevin Wallace suggested as little as 1 percent of the state budget remains to be negotiated as lawmakers eye the end of the 2018 legislative session on May 25. That’s according to eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley.
Ashley says state agencies will most likely see flat budgets. State revenue has increased due to economic growth and revenue generating measures from previous sessions, giving lawmakers more money to appropriate. And lawmakers have already dealt with many of the biggest budget items, like public education.
Following education measures, lawmakers settled on changes to Oklahoma’s criminal justice system that will reduce the flow of inmates into state prisons. The Department of Corrections is already operating prisons at 112 percent capacity.. The agency says the measures, which address sentencing and the classification of certain crimes, will reduce Oklahoma’s prison population by 4,250 by 2025. That’s less than what was recommended by Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force a little over a year ago.
As legislators prepare for final budget negotiations, a few bills remain. One without any fiscal impact is House Bill 2997, which designates the red-tailed hawk as the official state raptor. It passed the House unanimously in March, but the bill must to make it through the Senate before April 26 in order for the bird to join Oklahoma’s long list of state icons.
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Pryor: Shawn, there are indications the legislature may end the session early in just a couple of weeks. Can they actually do that?
Ashley: It would be tough to do that. But House Majority Leader John Echols and House Appropriations and Budget chairman Kevin Wallace indicated that they have actually been planning to do that perhaps as early as May 4th, which is just a little less than a couple of weeks away now. May 4th may not be possible but certainly before May 25th the last Friday in May when they are required constitutionally to adjourn. They could probably shut down before then with common education off the table
where do budget negotiations stand now?
Representative Wallace suggested the other day that perhaps as little as 1 percent of the budget remains to be negotiated to be settled. Senate Majority floor leader Greg Treat indicated that in the next few days we could hear some of the specifics of the budget. And then he made a very important comment about that as well that once those details get out once that agreement is reached people really begin to look toward the end of the legislative session
Pryor: And legislators are just worn out.
Ashley: Exactly. Senator Treat mentioned the other day that he has heard from fellow members that there's fatigue. They've been at this really for 16 months. But he said even reporters constituents and agency heads are telling him that they're fatigued as well. There's been a lot of work done over the course of the last 16 months.
He also pointed out to that that additional time together although it has been wearing on everyone has been beneficial and that's why we're seeing some bills move through more quickly and more smoothly.
Pryor: The economy has been rebounding with the legislature a void agency budget cuts this year?
Ashley: That seems to be the case. Representative Wallace indicated that most agencies will see a flat budget. Some will see some minor increases. But he suggested that no one should see a cut. Senator tree mentioned that the economy has been improving and of course we've seen that in revenue collection numbers and that adds to the amount of money which they have available to appropriate Senator treat also point into work they had done in previous legislative sessions a year ago. You may recall there were a number of revenue generating measures not tax increases but bills that caused additional money to flow into state coffers that were approved and signed by the governor. So that seems to be helping out as well.
Pryor: Unlike last year there are some criminal justice bills moving.
Ashley: That's right. After that year of discussion it seems. Five move through the Senate this past week. Some others are moving over from the House. These make adjustments to various sentencing schemes and make changes to some of the classifications of certain crimes all with the goal of reducing the number of people flowing into our state prisons. These are not as strong as the bills that were originally proposed. Some information the Department of Corrections put out showed had the original bills passed in the coming few years that would have reduced intakes into the prison system by about 9,000 offenders. Now they're saying that would be about 4,250 offender decline.
Pryor: And, Shawn there is one other bill a lot of people are watching with great anticipation and that's the one establishing a state raptor.
Ashley: That's correct. A young man named Ephrem Bolian has approached the legislature about naming the Red Tailed Hawk the state raptor.
Ashley: That bill needs to move forward in order for Oklahoma to have an official state raptor, and remember, as Mr. Bolling points out it's referenced in our state song, where we watch a hawk making lazy circles in the sky.
Pryor: As they are discussing state raptor, we should remember that Oklahoma has a lot of state icons.
Ashley: That's right. On Thursday Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill creating the state's official inspirational song, "I Can Only Imagine." The state also has an official fruit, the strawberry, an official vegetable, the watermelon, and a number of other official designations of plants and animal life including the bison as the official state animal.
Pryor: What else should we watch for over the next few days?
Ashley: Over the next few days the legislature will be very busy in working toward that April 26 deadline, whether they take up the state raptor bill or not.
Pryor: All right Shawn, thanks.
Ashley: You're very welcome.