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Senate leader attempts to make state budget process more transparent

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall talk ahead of the State of the State address on Feb. 6, 2023.
Abi Ruth Martin
/
The Oklahoma Legislative Service Bureau
Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall talk ahead of the State of the State address on Feb. 6, 2023.

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat has announced a plan to make the state's budget and appropriations process more transparent during the 2024 legislative session.

TRANSCRIPT

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, the 2024 legislative session starts in less than two months and the process to craft the next state budget is underway. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat says his goal is to make preparation of the budget more transparent in the year ahead.

Shawn Ashley: Yes. Treat just outlined this new plan and parts of it everybody's familiar with. Senate appropriations subcommittees are holding budget hearings this month and in January to hear from state agency leaders about their needs for fiscal year 2025 that lawmakers will write the budget for during the 2024 session. What's different is that those subcommittees will propose budgets for each individual agency, and those proposals will be discussed in open meetings by the full Senate Appropriations Committee in February and March to come up with a Senate budget recommendation. The product of that work will be taken up by the full Senate as a simple resolution for discussion and debate and Treat said he expects a vigorous discussion and debate of that resolution. Once it's passed, it will be the Senate's opening position in budget discussions with the House and Governor Kevin Stitt.

Dick Pryor: This idea of having a resolution presented in March is designed to address a common complaint from the public and members of the legislature that too much of the budget is done in secret and members don't know about it until very late in the session.

Shawn Ashley: Yes, Treat acknowledged that is a problem that has plagued the legislature for decades and one he hoped to address when he first joined the Senate eleven years ago. Treat said, “Not only will we see the Senate's budget position in the resolution passed in March, but throughout negotiations, whenever the House counter proposes or the governor puts forth a proposal,” Treat said, “we will bring that back in an open meeting of the appropriations process. To the extent possible, we are going to try to make sure that everything goes into an open meeting regardless of the origin.”

Dick Pryor: That will be something interesting to watch during the 2024 session. We'll get the first look at the amount of money available for appropriation later this month when the State Board of Equalization meets.

Shawn Ashley: That's right. The board will meet December 22nd to consider its fiscal year 2025 revenue estimate and will also report the total amount of funds available for appropriation, which includes the state’s savings accounts and other money that are not part of the General Revenue Fund estimate. That's the number Governor Stitt will use to write his budget and it will also be a starting point for those Senate subcommittees who will receive allocations from Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson to divide up among their agencies in the creation of their agency-by-agency budgets.

Dick Pryor: And that meeting is just the first step. What is the process the Board of Equalization uses to certify funds?

Shawn Ashley: Well, it's really already underway. The board will receive a report from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services on the revenue the state is expected to collect in fiscal year 2025. They gather that information from the Tax Commission, which projects tax revenues for the upcoming fiscal year, and other agencies like the courts, which collect certain fees, or the Commissioners of the Land Office, which generates revenue from land leases and other sources. All of that is put together into the General Revenue Fund estimate and the total amount of money available for appropriation that lawmakers will have to work with.

Dick Pryor: Now, the state budget is one of the items President Pro Tem Treat and Speaker of the House Charles McCall discussed when they spoke at the State Regents for Higher Education meeting on Wednesday. What else did they have to say?

Shawn Ashley: Treat discussed priorities Senate Education Committee Chair Adam Pugh has shared regarding deferred maintenance expenses and insurance costs at the state's colleges and universities - something they hope to tackle in the 2024 legislative session. McCall predicted the state budget would be strong, yet flattened somewhat from what we've seen. The most interesting news may have been about the House speaker's race. McCall, like Treat, is term limited in 2024 and cannot seek reelection. That means there'll be new leaders in both the House and the Senate. McCall said, “We have about four members of our caucus that are talking to members about seeking that office, and that's something we'll be watching in the year ahead, certainly.”

Dick Pryor: Absolutely. Thank you, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org and look for Capitol Insider where you get podcasts. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

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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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