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Budget deal in place, legislators race toward end of session

Oklahoma State Capitol
Oklahoma State Capitol

It took until the final two weeks of the session, but the governor and legislative leaders reached agreement on the fiscal year 2025 budget. Now, it's crunch time.


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, last Monday it looked like talks for the fiscal year 2025 state budget were collapsing. But that quickly changed, and a deal came together Wednesday morning. What caused the rapid shift?

Shawn Ashley: On Wednesday, Governor Kevin Stitt told lawmakers he would not veto the budget if they agreed to four proposals. Now, the proposals were not the issue. It was Stitt’s promise not to veto the budget that mattered. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat had asked Governor Stitt during the first budget summit meeting on May 6th if he would sign the budget. Stitt would not make that pledge, saying he needed to see the budget first and then Treat asked House Speaker Charles McCall on May 17th for assurance that the House would join the Senate in overriding any vetoes the governor might issue. Treat said he was concerned Stitt might veto things the Senate wanted and had negotiated, but McCall refused, and the talks ended that day. House Appropriations and Budget Chair Kevin Wallace would not give that assurance on May 20th, which again brought talks to a halt and raised concerns they would not be able to get a final deal. But on Wednesday, Stitt made his offer. The lawmakers agreed, and that led them to their final agreement.

Dick Pryor: We knew there was disagreement over individual income tax cuts, but there were several sticking points. Was there a particular issue that had to be resolved to push the talks over the finish line?

Shawn Ashley: Yes, there was. And that was funding the Legacy Capital Fund. Now, this fund was created in 2023 as an infrastructure bank of sorts, through which the legislature funds capital improvements. The House wanted to deposit $350 million into the account and fund a dozen new projects from it. The Senate opposed that and proposed a smaller deposit, and to use the fund to pay for larger projects and cash to pay for smaller ones. The issue was discussed at every meeting of the budget negotiators, and a decision pushed back time and time again until that final meeting on Wednesday, when they agreed to a $177 million deposit to fund six projects over $20 million through the fund and to use cash for the remaining projects.

Dick Pryor: Time is running short to get the budget passed and signed. What's the plan?

Shawn Ashley: The Joint Committees on Appropriations and Budget are meeting on Monday to take up the 40 or so bills they will use to implement the budget. Those bills will then have to be heard on both the House and Senate floors Tuesday through Friday.

Dick Pryor: Shawn, just about every year, lawmakers complain that budget bills are dropped on them at the last minute without sufficient time to review, discuss, and make any changes. Budget transparency has been a big deal this year, but again, most lawmakers and the public won't see the final bills until the last few days. So, did the process improve?

Shawn Ashley: Well, I think the answer is yes and no. Yes, because we had the opportunity to see more of the budget writing process than we ever had before - from the Senate crafting its starting point resolution in February all the way to the final deal struck Wednesday. But no, because we are starting the final week of the session and lawmakers have yet to cast a single budget bill vote. Now remember, there was a one month delay back from March to April while we waited for the House numbers. If we got that month back, they might have approved a budget in the middle of April.

Dick Pryor: There are still some important policy bills to resolve. When does the legislature expect to finish those and adjourn Sine Die?

Shawn Ashley: This is where the floor leaders, House Majority Floor Leader John Echols and Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg McCortney will really earn their money. They have to coordinate those budget bills being heard with those remaining policy bills being considered and get it all done by 5 p.m. on Friday, May 31st. It's quite a dance that they'll have to do.

Dick Pryor: And we're heading down the homestretch. 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 is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

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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