Capitol Insider: State budget talks heating up as end of legislative session nears
The most important part of the legislative session is still a work in progress. With three weeks left before the Legislature adjourns sine die, budget negotiators are moving closer to finalizing the state budget and appropriations for the next fiscal year.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, it's May and the Legislature is required to finish its work in this session in three weeks. This time of year, budget talks always heat up and start to dominate the legislative agenda. Where do talks on the fiscal year 2023 budget stand now?
Shawn Ashley: “So close.” That's what Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson told me and a couple of other reporters on Thursday. They are so close to getting a final agreement now. Now, Thompson did not give a specific timeline for the budget's reveal, but he said negotiators are getting close to that final arrangement and that we should be hearing something soon.
Dick Pryor: In other news, Oklahoma keeps making national headlines by passing and the governor signing bills that make abortion virtually impossible to obtain and illegal in the state. Governor Stitt has signed three so far, including two in the last week. Are any other anti-abortion bills in the legislative pipeline?
Shawn Ashley: There really is only one left – House Bill 4327. Now, it's similar to Senate Bill 1503 in that it allows civil lawsuits against abortion providers and those who help or aid and abet a woman in obtaining an abortion. The difference is that it essentially applies at the time of conception. The House and Senate passed two different versions of the bill, so it would need to go to conference for lawmakers to come up with language that would be put to a final vote. And it's not clear if they're actually going to do that.
Dick Pryor: Signs indicate the U.S. Supreme Court may be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. What would that mean under Oklahoma law?
Shawn Ashley: Well, it's rather confusing. Senate Bill 612 and Senate Bill 1555 make abortion a crime from the time of conception. Senate Bill 1503 allows abortions until a fetal heartbeat is detected. So, the laws are potentially in conflict from the time of conception for a crime or up to a fetal heartbeat in order for an abortion to be provided. And you know what that ultimately means when you have laws in conflict. It would be up to the courts to decide how to resolve that conflict.
Dick Pryor: That's right. Oklahoma's gross receipts to the Treasury hit a record high in April. Shawn, that's significant because a large portion of that money goes into the state's general revenue fund. Overall, that's positive. But the news comes with a warning from State Treasurer Randy McDaniel.
Shawn Ashley: Treasurer McDaniel noted sales and use taxes, which really measure consumer activity, did not grow as fast as the rate of inflation, 8.5% annualized. So that is rather troubling. It seems to indicate that Oklahomans are bearing the burden of higher prices in the grocery stores, he noted, and at the gas pump, for example. At the same time, gross production taxes on oil and natural gas and motor vehicle taxes also were lower than one year ago, which McDaniel noted was a concern because it's further indication that Oklahomans are tightening their belts and not spending as much.
Dick Pryor: The House committee that's investigating the Tourism and Recreation Department's contract with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen has issued its first subpoenas. What do they want to hear from the initial witnesses?
Shawn Ashley: Basic facts and finances are the focus of the committee's first meeting. Representative Ryan Martinez, who chairs the committee, said on Thursday. Most of the committee members did not hear the LOFT report when it was presented to the Oversight Committee at the end of March. So, this will be their first exposure to it and it goes into quite a bit of detail about that contract arrangement. (Oklahoma Chief Operating Officer Steven) Harpe, of course, can provide an overview of the state's contracting, purchasing and payment processes, all of which will be important to the investigation.
Dick Pryor: Shawn, what's on the legislative agenda in the week ahead?
Shawn Ashley: Well, like I mentioned on House Bill 4327, lawmakers need to come to agreement on the final language of any bills that they're going to pass before they have to adjourn May 27th. And like we said at the beginning, there is the budget that has yet to be revealed. We need to see what's in it and how it's going to be received.
Dick Pryor: Budget, budget, budget. Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: We would like to hear from you. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @QuorumCallShawn. For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.