Republican lawmakers provided details Tuesday on their $9.7 billion state budget plan, which included one-time payments to help Oklahomans deal with rising inflation, but notably absent from their announcement was Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Legislative leaders said they expect to pass the budget and send it to the governor this week. The Legislature has to adjourn by May 27, so lawmakers have built in time to consider any override attempts if Stitt decides to veto all or part of it.
The governor’s office said Stitt saw the final budget agreement for the first time late Monday evening.
The budget agreement is almost 10% higher than the appropriations bill for fiscal year 2022. It sets aside additional money in various state savings accounts. Those savings are projected to hit $2.6 billion next year.
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said the budget agreement reflects shared priorities in education, law enforcement and health care.
To help deal with higher inflation, the budget includes one-time payments of $75 to individuals and $150 to married couples. That Inflation Relief Stimulus Program totals $181 million. Discussion earlier in the session to eliminate the state’s share of grocery sales taxes, a key priority of the Democratic minorities in the House and Senate, did not make it into the final budget agreement.
The proposed budget includes nearly $700 million in funding for a new economic development incentive package reportedly meant to attract a battery manufacturing plant planned by Panasonic. Another $250 million in incentives would go to rural areas to help retrofit industrial parks. The budget also eliminates the state sales tax on vehicles, which was implemented in 2017 during a budget shortfall.
Legislative leaders put $32.5 million behind an effort to eliminate the state’s waiting list for services for the developmentally disabled at the Department of Human Services. That’s higher than the $20 million asked for by Stitt in his budget proposal unveiled at the beginning of session in February.
State troopers would see a pay increase totaling $14.2 million. The budget also funds a new program to start a mental wellness division at the Department of Public Safety. Agents at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation would also get a pay increase totaling $5.3 million.
Under the legislative budget agreement, common education would get almost $3.2 billion, an increase of about 2% from fiscal year 2022. Republican leaders said that was the highest appropriation in state history, although some Democrats said it didn’t go far enough when teachers were leaving the work force. The budget increase doesn’t change the state aid formula and instead funds increases in public school activities, employee benefits and the State Department of Education.
More than $340 million is slated for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. That’s $18.5 million more than last year’s budget. The proposal targets rate increases for care providers, children’s behavioral health services and increased medication assisted treatment in county jails. More beds would be added to the state’s largest inpatient hospital in Vinita, which serves all 77 counties.
Legislative budget writers continued to fund lawsuits against the federal government to push back against what Republicans call overreach by the Biden administration. The budget plan includes another $10 million, on top of $10 million last year, to fund the Reserved Powers Protection Unit at the attorney general’s office.
Staff writers Whitney Bryen and Jennifer Palmer contributed to this report.
Paul Monies has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2017 and covers state agencies and public health. Contact him at (571) 319-3289 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @pmonies.