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Budget talks moving forward again

Oklahoma State Capitol
Oklahoma State Capitol

The state House and Senate are starting to see areas of agreement as they restart the process to craft a state budget for fiscal year 2025.


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 House of Representatives released its budget blueprint on Tuesday. What's in it?

Shawn Ashley: The House budget totals $12.6 billion. That's approximately 4.21% less than what was appropriated for the current fiscal year. It also includes an individual income tax cut proposal that would reduce the income tax rate to zero over time, based on hitting certain revenue growth triggers. Otherwise, it's pretty straightforward. It increases appropriations for some state agencies, holds others flat, and then reduces some, most by removing funding for special projects that were part of last year's appropriations.

Dick Pryor: The release of the blueprint ended the stalemate between the House and Senate and got the budget moving again. What's the Senate doing?

Shawn Ashley: On Wednesday, the day after the House released its blueprint, the Senate suspended its deadline for House bills to be heard in committee to permit a group of budget related bills to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee. More than 20 bills that modify existing programs or create new ones were heard by the committee and passed on Thursday. They now need to be heard on the floor by April 25th.

Dick Pryor: There's already agreement on appropriations for some agencies. So, could the negotiations on the budget go quickly?

Shawn Ashley: A review of the House blueprint and the Senate's resolution shows the House and Senate agree on the appropriation amounts for more than a dozen state agencies and programs. Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson called that noteworthy. Speaking to reporters a couple of days before the House released its plan, House Speaker Charles McCall was optimistic and suggested the legislature could take up the final appropriations bills as early as the first week of May and send them to Governor Kevin Stitt for his consideration. That, he said, could mean the legislature would finish its work early, perhaps by the middle of May.

Dick Pryor: The House has passed and sent to the Senate Speaker Charles McCall's immigration bill that was just introduced on Monday. What would it do?

Shawn Ashley: House Bill 4156 creates the crime of impermissible occupation, which takes place when a person, willfully and without permission, enters and remains in the state of Oklahoma without having first obtained legal authorization to enter the United States. A first offense would be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to a year in jail, and the person would be required to leave the state within 72 hours of paying the fine or being released from jail. A second offense would be a felony, punishable by a larger fine, up to two years in prison, and the person would be required to leave the state within 72 hours of their release.

Dick Pryor: Democrats were quick to criticize the bill. What are their concerns?

Shawn Ashley: Democrats expressed concern the bill would lead to racial profiling and negatively impact families with members who are not in the country legally. House Democratic Leader Cyndi Munson noted immigration is a federal issue, not a state issue. “We do not have the power to implement immigration solutions,” she said, “but we can focus on ways to help those who are undocumented in Oklahoma.”

Dick Pryor: A joint resolution calling for a vote of the people to modify the way judges are selected failed in the House. It would have eliminated the Judicial Nominating Commission that has been in place since the late 1960s and replaced it with a process similar to federal judicial nominations. What's the upshot of the failure of the joint resolution?

Shawn Ashley: Well, first, it means the proposal will not advance this legislative session, but that may generate interest in other proposals related to the judiciary, such as a bill proposing a mandatory retirement age for judges and justices and a proposal carried over from 2023 that would create a judicial evaluation process. It also showed House Republicans are not always in 100% agreement. The bill failed 36 to 60. More Republicans - 42 - voted against it than voted for it - 35.

Dick Pryor: Another bill that would consolidate more power in the legislature involves the initiative petition process itself by making it harder for citizens to get state questions on the ballot. It passed and has gone to the governor.

Shawn Ashley: Senate Bill 518 was one of several proposals that would tighten regulations regarding the initiative petition process. And as you noted, this is the one that has made it to the governor's desk.

Dick Pryor: Thank you, 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.

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.

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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