FY16 budget

Oklahoma City attorney and legislative watchdog Jerry Fent, who has successfully challenged laws in the past, comes out of a hearing room at the State Supreme Court, where a referee heard his lawsuit over House Bill 2562.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

An Oklahoma City attorney claims the state is essentially operating a Ponzi scheme by routinely raiding its Unclaimed Property Fund and using money that belongs to its citizens to fund state government operations. 

Attorney Jerry Fent alleges in a lawsuit filed Monday in Oklahoma County District Court that transfers from the Unclaimed Property Fund maintained by the state treasurer's office are illegal.

Oklahoma State Capitol
mrlaugh / Flickr

The 55th Oklahoma Legislature wrapped up its first session a little over two weeks ago on May 22, one week ahead of the constitutionally required deadline to adjourn.

Lawmakers passed bond issues for widely publicized museums in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa. But the $611 million shortfall in the state budget dominated the conversation from January to May, even though details of the $7.1 billion agreement didn't emerge until shortly before the gavel fell. To plug that gap, lawmakers cut most agency budgets by five to seven percent, and also used monies from the state's Rainy Day Fund and state agency revolving accounts.

State agencies and departments are starting the process of developing operating plans for next fiscal year based on the budget appropriations passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Fallin.

The Office of Juvenile Affairs received an increase that will keep a facility open, but the Oklahoma Arts Council took at 7.25 percent cut that will affect the arts grants to organizations statewide.

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission also received less funding that will affect operations and a federal allocation for dam repair. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation receives no state tax dollars but anticipates a larger budget because of increasing license fees. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management’s budget decreases will not affect operations because of federal funding to the department.

Oklahoma Capitol Building
ana branca / Flickr

Bond rating agencies will not be fond of Oklahoma’s fiscal year 2016 budget, State Bond Advisor Jim Joseph told the Council on Bond Oversight.

“This budget will not be something the rating agencies will like because of the way is was balanced with one time money,” Joseph said Thursday during a meeting of the council.


Joseph pointed out the budget uses a variety of one-time funding sources, including $150 million from the Constitutional Reserve or Rainy Day Fund and $125.2 million from agency revolving fund accounts.


What Budget Drama’s End May Mean For Key State Services

May 23, 2015
State Reps. Elise Hall (far right) and Katie Henke (center) applaud as the state House adjourns sine die Friday afternoon.
M. Scott Carter / Oklahoma Watch

The 55th session of the Oklahoma Legislature adjourned for the year late Friday afternoon, quietly ending four months’ worth of fighting over money, morals and museums.

For most of the session, a shadow hung over everything: a $611 million budget hole. 

Lawmakers chose to adjourn the session a week early, just days after they wrapped up work on the state’s $7.2 billion budget.

The budget cut funding to career and technology education, higher education and transportation. At the same time, more funds were steered to mental health services, public safety and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Even with budget hikes, however, key agencies said they would likely have to cut spending.

In a move that surprised many, the Legislature approved a $25 million bond issue for the beleaguered American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and a second $25 million bond issue for a museum of popular culture in Tulsa.

Lawmakers also debated issues such as same-sex marriage.

The shrinking pool of money available for appropriation quickly became the session’s central theme.

In February, after the Board of Equalization certified a funding estimate millions below the 2014 prediction, lawmakers went into damage-control mode. They warned agency heads little money would be available for next year.

“We’ve been telling them all session there would be cuts,” said Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, vice-chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

By May, agency directors were convinced.

Oklahoma House of Representatives Chamber

The Oklahoma Legislature has adjourned the 2015 legislative session one week earlier than is required.

The presiding officer of the Senate dropped the gavel shortly after 3 p.m. Friday and two hours later the House also adjourned sine die, a Latin phrase that literally means "without day."

The Oklahoma Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn by the last Friday in May, but lawmakers rushed to complete their work this week to finish before the Memorial Day weekend.

Oklahoma House of Reps / YouTube

House lawmakers approved a $7.1 billion budget late Wednesday night just one day after unveiling the plan. It now goes to the Senate on a 54-42 vote that saw several Republicans voting against the bill along with the House’s Democratic minority. The upper chamber is expected to consider the budget Thursday.

Gov. Mary Fallin during her 2015 State of the State address Feb. 2, 2015.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A little over two weeks before the constitutionally required deadline for Oklahoma lawmakers to wrap up the legislative session, Gov. Mary Fallin and leaders of the House and Senate announced a budget deal Tuesday afternoon.

The $7.1 billion budget is just over one percent less than the current fiscal year, and closes a $611 million shortfall by tapping the Rainy Day Fund, state agency revolving accounts, and the Unclaimed Property Fund.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) at Gov. Mary Fallin's State of the State address - February 3, 2014.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

State lawmakers unveiled a fiscal year 2016 budget Tuesday that would keep funding for common education flat but cut appropriations for colleges and universities by $24.1 million.

Oklahoma's common education system would receive $2.484 billion, the same amount it received in 2015. The state's CareerTech education system would see a 3.5 percent decrease in its budget, about $4.8 million.

Oklahoma State Capitol
Joseph Novak / Flickr

Oklahoma lawmakers are looking at taking between $100 and $140 million from the state's "rainy day fund" and could tap agency revolving funds for more than $100 million to help backfill the state's budget hole,  a source close to Governor Mary Fallin's office said Wednesday.

Oklahoma is facing a $611.3 million budget gap.

"Everything is very fluid right now, but it looks like revolving funds and 'rainy day' money will be used," said the source, who asked to remain unidentified.

Synergos Institute / Flickr

Despite a budget hole of $611 million, a court-ordered reform of Oklahoma’s child welfare system will be funded for the 2016 fiscal year, the chairmen of the Legislature’s budget-writing committees said Monday.  

State Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said the Department of Human Services’ Pinnacle Plan would be funded for the next fiscal year.

“It’s not up for debate,” said Jolley, chairman of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee. “The Pinnacle Plan will be funded.”

Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, who is House budget chair, agreed.

Preston Doerflinger, Office of State Finance director, during a November 2011 tax credit task force meeting.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Facing a budget hole of more than $611 million, state lawmakers said they're looking everywhere for revenue to fill that hole.

On Friday, Governor Fallin's finance secretary, Preston Doerflinger, said he may have found a source of savings: agency travel costs, agencies' memberships to other organizations and agency promotional and events expenses, or what his office calls "swag."

A state House budget subcommittee asked cultural agencies Monday how they’re preparing for another year of cuts.

Oklahoma Arts Council Director Amber Sharples said their first cuts would be to community arts programs.

"These go very heavily to our rural communities — the festivals that take place everywhere from Claremore, Idabel, across the state," Sharples said. "So, obviously, that would have ramifications."

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr Creative Commons

A decade ago, Oklahoma was the poster child for states with a crumbling infrastructure.

About one-third of the state's bridges were structurally deficient, including some too dangerous for school buses or commercial trucks to cross.

When Republicans came to power in 2004, they worked with Democrats on a direct allocation of income tax revenue to fund an eight-year plan to improve roads and bridges.

The program has been successful, cutting the number of bad bridges by more than a third and leading to other safety improvements like road shoulders and cable barriers.

State agencies are being asked to return to the Capitol to have an in-depth discussion about their budgets, the leaders of the House and the Senate said Thursday. The meetings to discuss budgets are a result of the $611 million dollar shortfall authorized by the State Equalization Board last Tuesday.

State Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville

Oklahoma's legislative leaders say the state's projected $300 million budget hole for the upcoming year will nearly double due to low energy prices and the resulting layoffs of oil and natural gas workers.

Republican Rep. Earl Sears of Bartlesville, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said Thursday falling energy prices and layoffs at Oklahoma energy companies means the budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1 "will be significantly larger" than originally projected.

Gov. Mary Fallin shakes House Speaker Jeff Hickman's hand after her Feb. 2, 2015 State of the State address as Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb look on.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Facing a $300 million shortfall, Oklahoma's elected leaders are vowing to re-examine the more than $1 billion in tax credits or incentives the state has had on its books for decades.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman of Sapulpa and House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman of Fairview have said that taking a closer examination of the incentives will be a priority this session.

The lawmakers want to analyze tax credits every four years to determine whether they are paying off.

Legislative committee work dominated the first full week of the Oklahoma legislative session for the House and Senate, as well as some other planning.

Oklahoma Senate leader pushes budget-only session: A plan to dedicate every other legislative session in Oklahoma exclusively to creating a state budget is picking up momentum in the Legislature. Gov. Mary Fallin touted the idea on the campaign trail, and now Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman has written a resolution that would send the plan to a vote of the people. A similar proposal passed the House last year on a bipartisan 70-18 vote and had the support of Republican House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman. If approved by voters, the Legislature would write a budget every year, but only deal with non-budget bills every other year.

House Bill 1409 received a "do pass" recommendation from the House Committee on Public Health. Among its provisions, it would triple the waiting period for terminating a pregnancy after informed consent has been provided: from 24 to 72 hours.

The House Elections and Ethics Committee gave do pass recommendations to four bills. A fifth bill, by House Speaker Jeff Hickman, was laid over. The committee substitute for HB1097, by Rep. Donald Condit, D-McAlester, generated the most discussion. The bill would make sheriffs elections non-partisan. Condit said he filed the bill after speaking with a constituent who had been unable to vote in recent sheriffs’ elections. The Committee also approved a measure where voters could apply to become permanent absentee voters. State Rep. Elise Hall, author of House Bill 1559, said the intent of her legislation is to improve the absentee ballot system and encourage greater voter participation.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services made its annual appropriation request Tuesday in front of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Health. The department is requesting a total of $141,104,999 for FY16. A large majority of these appropriations would go towards maintaining existing programs and the Smart on Crime Initiative, which includes funding drug courts and mental health courts. Commissioner Terri White said the department's most important goal was to maintain these existing programs such as the Systems of Care Program.

The Senate Public Safety Committee approved SB0578, by Sen. Wayne Shaw, designed to reduce the number of aged prisoners in the Department of Corrections’ custody by establishing a secure nursing facility for prisoners. Such a facility currently does not exist, Shaw said, and the older, often ailing inmates, remain in prison and cost the state additional money. The proposal would create a stand-alone long-term care facility for any incarcerated offender deemed by the DOC to be either critically or terminally ill.

The House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee passed four bills on Wednesday with minimal debate. Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, voiced repeated concerns about HB1046, a bill that would modify the way in which restitution is paid in Oklahoma. HB1046, by Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, requires that if the court cancels all or part of restitution owed, the court must also apply the same percentage reduction to any court-ordered monetary obligation owed by the defendant.

Gov. Mary Fallin at her 2015 State of the State speech before the Oklahoma legislature.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Gov. Mary Fallin has released her executive budget sent to the legislature for fiscal year 2016 that begins July 1, 2015.

Fallin urged lawmakers to spend more than $80 million to boost funding for K-12 education, several health agencies and the Department of Corrections. Funding for ten other agencies would be flat; the rest would face 6.25 percent cuts to their annual appropriations. The state is facing a $300 million budget hole that could grow as low oil prices affect revenues. Fallin predicts a tough budget year.

Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics

The Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training said Tuesday during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary that its training track is in desperate need for repair.

CLEET requested $3,809,401 in appropriations for FY2016. In FY2015 they were given $3,554,474.

Director Steven Emmons said their 1.8 mile training track is plagued by deep, hazardous ditches that have formed along the side of the road as a result of soil erosion that is a problem for the area they are located.