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Time is short for Oklahoma lawmakers to draft new state budget

State Capitol
State Capitol

Just five weeks remain in the 2023 Oklahoma legislative session, and lawmakers still have about 500 bills to consider and the next state budget to draft.


Announcer: Capitol Insider sponsored by the Oklahoma State Medical Association, physician members who are committed to better health for all Oklahomans. Learn more at okmed.org.

Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, we're just a month away from when lawmakers might adjourn the regular legislative session. They must be finished in five weeks by May 26th. But it could come by May 19th or earlier. Do you see that as a possibility this year?

Shawn Ashley: I do. There's a strategic reason for lawmakers to finish their work at least one week before May 26th. That would give Governor Kevin Stitt just five days excluding Sunday to sign or veto the bills lawmakers passed during their last week of work. And it also gives the legislature the opportunity to come back and override any vetoes he issued. Now, that's what they did in 2022. They finished their work May 20th and returned to their chamber floors, May 26th and May 27th. On May 27th, the final day of the 2022 session, they overrode six of Stitt’s vetoes. Now, if the legislature works up until May 26th, when it must adjourn Sine Die according to the Constitution, Governor Stitt will have 15 days to sign or veto the bills they passed during the final five days of the session, and lawmakers will no longer be in session, so they can't attempt to override any of those vetoes.

Dick Pryor: Which means legislators don't have much time to come up with a state budget.

Shawn Ashley: No, they don't. And the first piece of that puzzle continues to be the fight over private school tax credits and additional funding for common education. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat told me on March 2nd, “when you do budgeting, you typically want to get the big rocks in place first, and then you start arguing about the parts that fill in between the big rocks. It's given us some level of uncertainty where to start the budgeting process.” On Thursday, Treat said the ongoing discussions about the education budget have taken a lot of the oxygen out of the room. Now, the pro tem did not offer a specific timetable, but he said if they don't come up with a solution sometime soon, they will need to abandon those discussions and move on to other things.

Dick Pryor: With the education piece still to be decided and taking up a lot of oxygen, it sounds like the rest of the budget will have to be settled very quickly. Will lawmakers have enough time to do that justice?

Shawn Ashley: Well, let's break that question down into two parts. First, will they have enough time to finish the budget? The answer, I think, is yes. We have seen them over the years be able to pull a rabbit out of their collective hats and move budget bills through the process in just a few days. So, they certainly have time to do that. Second, will they be able to do it justice? Some lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, will tell you no. Each time a budget agreement is announced and run through both chambers in just a matter of days, members of both parties point out that they did not have sufficient time to review it and determine what effect it would have on state agencies and members of the public.

Now, some of those complaints probably are not without validity. For example, lawmakers passed and Governor Stitt signed a bill earlier this year that appropriates $9 million to the State Regents for Higher Education to fund a program for members of the National Guard. Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson told the Senate Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget when it considered the bill that they did not have time to get an agreement on that funding during the 2022 budget talks. In other words, sometimes time is not on their side.

Dick Pryor: Shifting topics. What's the status of sports betting this year?

Shawn Ashley: House Bill 1027 will not advance after it was not heard in a Senate committee by April 13th. The Senate author, Senator Bill Coleman, a Republican from Ponca City, said the demise of the bill, in part, was due to the lack of coordination between the executive branch and tribal leadership. Now, I think we need to remember that the model gaming compact that gave us the casinos we have today was not simply something approved by voters or the legislature. It represented months of talks between the tribes, then-Governor Brad Henry and lawmakers at the time. And it seems that sort of engagement is needed again to add sports betting to the state's gaming portfolio, at least according to Senator Coleman.

Dick Pryor: All right. Thank you, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor. Listeners like you provide essential funding for KGOU’s news reports including Capitol Insider, available in podcasts, online, and on the air. Information on how to contribute is at kgou.org.

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Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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