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House and Senate standoff threatens timely state budget agreement

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, left, and House Speaker Charles McCall, right, can't agree on how to best cut taxes with the $11 billion budget the Oklahoma State Board of Equalization certified Thursday.
Legislative Services Bureau
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, left, and Speaker of the House Charles McCall, right.

Oklahoma legislative leaders disagree over the path forward toward developing the state budget for the next fiscal year.

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. It's April and the time for legislators to get serious about the state budget and appropriations. But the House and Senate are at odds when they need to be coming together. Shawn, what's going on?

Shawn Ashley: The Senate is holding up consideration of House budget bills - things like creating and funding new programs and tax credit proposals - until the House provides details about its FY25 budget plan. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat and Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson said Wednesday they were told the House would deliver its budget outline by March 26th, but it didn't. And those House officials told the Senate it would do so by April 2nd. It didn't do so then, either. So, Treat and Thompson announced Wednesday that the Senate Appropriations Committee would not hear any budget bills that came over from the House until they get those documents and can share them with the public.

Now, on the other side of the rotunda, the House wants the Senate to agree to a solution for funding teacher pay raises at off-the-state aid formula schools for fiscal year 2024 before they share information about their FY25 budget plan. State Department of Education officials notified the legislature in June that there was a potential problem with the way those raises were funded during the 2023 session. The Senate did pass a bill to address the issue, but the House doesn't like that bill. So, here we are with eight weeks remaining in the session and lawmakers locked in a budget kerfuffle.

Dick Pryor: Treat is serious about transparency. He says the Senate “is not going to blink,” but there's a deadline coming for House bills to be heard in Senate committees. What if this isn't resolved by that deadline?

Shawn Ashley: I asked about that the other day, and he says he does not intend to move. Thursday's deadline for House bills to be heard in Senate committees. In simplest terms, that means those bills would not advance. But you and I know and hopefully our listeners have learned over the years that does not mean those proposals would be completely dead. They could be attached to other bills when the House considers Senate bills on the House floor later this month, or they could work their way into the final budget negotiations.

Dick Pryor: Yes, that's how it works at the state Capitol. Where does the House stand on settling this dispute?

Shawn Ashley: House Appropriations and Budget Chair Kevin Wallace said they need to fix the current fiscal year’s off-the-formula teacher pay issue before they begin working on next year's budget. And he said Wednesday that could be done by passing a supplemental appropriation for the State Department of Education. And then he would be happy to release the House's budget documents, he said. But on Thursday, I was hearing different numbers from the House and Senate on exactly what that supplemental would need to be.

Dick Pryor: Last year, lawmakers called themselves into special session to complete the 2024 state budget. During that session, the legislature passed two bills that gave Native American tribes the opportunity to extend compacts with the state. The governor vetoed the bills, the legislature overrode the vetoes, and then the governor sued the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has now resolved the issue in its ruling in the case of Stitt v. Treat and McCall.

Shawn Ashley: Yes. And Governor Stitt raised three main points in that case, and the court ruled against him on each issue. But despite the loss, Stitt looked at the decision favorably. “I'm thankful that today's decision gives future governors clarity around compact negotiations,” Stitt said in a statement. Treat called the decision “welcome” and “what he expected.” And, it should be noted, Stitt has used the additional time resulting from those bills to negotiate a number of new tobacco tax and car registration compacts with several tribes.

Dick Pryor: The last few days have also seen candidate filing at the Capitol. I know you haven't had time to dig through all the filings, but are you seeing any themes developing?

Shawn Ashley: Like we have seen the past couple of cycles, there are a good number of uncontested seats. That means those candidates, largely incumbents, will win election without a vote having to be cast. At the same time, there are a fair number of incumbents being challenged by members of their own party, mostly Republicans, and those races are always interesting to watch.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: 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.

KGOU produces journalism in the public interest, which is critical to an informed electorate. Listeners like you provide essential funding for Capitol Insider. Make your contribution at KGOU.org.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 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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