Gov. Kevin Stitt and Republican leaders in Oklahoma's Senate and House of Representatives announced an agreement on the state budget last week. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss the deal, some of its sticking points for Democrats and what's next for legislators.
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Gov. Stitt and House and Senate leaders announced an agreement on the state budget last week and speaker Charles McCall spoke for each of them when he called it a good plan, now and for the future.
(clip) Charles McCall: This budget also I believe is very forward-looking. I said a few days ago, I felt like it was on balance, comprehensive and considerate. But it's also looks beyond this session. It puts us in a good spot not only to achieve some great goals and objectives of this session, but to return next year and have the opportunity to do that again.
Pryor: Shawn, where does the budget bill stand now?
Shawn Ashley: The budget bill was taken up by the House of Representatives on Friday, where it passed largely along party lines. It now heads to the Senate, where it's expected to be taken up on Tuesday. Its passage in the House followed more than an hour of questions and then another hour of debate. And it's also expected to be fairly hotly contested in the Senate as well.
Pryor: The bill will put about $200 million into a savings account. Now Republicans praised the idea of holding money in reserve. Democrats objected to setting money aside while not funding other needs. It got contentious at times over that point and it has been that way for much of the session.
Ashley: This has been one of the key differences between Republicans and Democrats on this budget proposal, really going all the way back to the start of the legislative session. Gov. Kevin Stitt, when he was elected, indicated that he would like to significantly increase Oklahoma's savings in order to deal with situations where the economy takes a downturn and then state revenues fall. Often that has led to cuts in core services. Gov. Stitt would like to have the cash on hand so that those services could be augmented and not have to be reduced.
Democrats, however, look at the revenue growth the state has for the current fiscal year and see it as an opportunity to fill some of the holes that developed over the last several years, when state revenues were down and almost every agency across the state had to take from small to significant budget cuts. They say more money is needed in education, at the Department of Corrections, the Department of Health and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and almost every other agency, in order to help overcome those cuts from previous years. But because Republicans have the majority there will be approximately $200 million that will go into the revenue stabilization fund for savings for that possible rainy day.
Pryor: As an illustration of the disagreement, Rep. Emily Virgin questioned why higher education will receive $28 million extra, plus $7.5 million for concurrent enrollment programs, when it has been cut--higher ed has--more than $200 million in the last several years.
Ashley: In fact, the State Regents for Higher Education had requested $105 million for the upcoming fiscal year in order to overcome some of those cuts, which they and other agencies have suffered over the previous years.
The funding for the concurrent enrollment programs is a rather interesting piece. Higher ed officials have sought money for that program, which has a lot of popularity among high school students, for several years now. This is the first time they have received such a large appropriation for it. And perhaps it's as a result of situations like occurred on the Senate floor on Thursday, where one of the pages introduced himself and indicated that when he graduated high school, he also would be graduating from one of the state's community colleges with an associate's degree--with two years of his college completed--as a result of the concurrent enrollment program.
Pryor: Shawn, what's on the schedule this week, other than the Senate taking up the budget on Tuesday?
Ashley: There are a number of other bills tied to the budget--bills that limit how agencies can spend their money and also put in place some of the policies and procedures that were part of the agreement. Lawmakers hope to complete their work by May 24.
Pryor: All right, Shawn, thanks.
Ashley: You're very welcome.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews.
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