A $9.7 billion dollar budget bill has cleared the Legislature and now is awaiting action from Gov. Kevin Stitt.
After the Oklahoma Senate voted 34-13 to approve the budget earlier in the week, the state House also gave the green light to the spending plan with a 75-15 vote on Friday.
Gov. Kevin Stitt, who reportedly was shut out of budget negotiations with GOP legislative leaders, has yet to say if he will sign, veto the entire bill or use line-item vetos to remove certain parts of the budget. But the Legislature’s vote totals in the House and Senate signal that there would be enough votes to override those potential vetoes, unless lawmakers switch their votes.
The spending plan, which would take effect July 1, is almost 10 percent higher than the current general appropriations budget.
But while some agencies received significant boosts this year, others will see little changes.
Some of the biggest increases would go to the Department of Environmental Quality (125% increase), Aeronautics Commission (100% increase), the Department of Agriculture (44.51% increase) and Regents for Higher Education (7.45% increase).
But some other agencies, including the Department of Education, will see a relatively flat budget compared to the current year.
The budget plan also includes:
- $181 million to give a one-time payment of $75 to individuals and $150 to married couples.
- $700 million in funding for a new economic development incentive package reportedly meant to attract a battery manufacturing plant planned by Panasonic.
- $250 million in incentives would go to rural areas to help retrofit industrial parks.
- $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.
- $14.2 million for state trooper raises.
The budget additionally sets aside additional money in various state savings accounts. Those savings are projected to hit $2.6 billion next year.
During debate on the measure Friday, House Appropriations and Budget Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, called the budget “responsible” and something Oklahomans should be proud of.
“There are dollars being saved because it’s not if there will be another downturn, but when and what we are doing to weather that storm,” he said. “We are saving money when things are good so this is a very good budget.”
But Democrats, almost all of whom voted against the bill, criticized Republican leaders for leaving money on the table since they argue that many state agency needs have been neglected for years.
“An incremental investment in common education is necessary to give students the stability they need,” said Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater. “Instead, we’re told ‘not this year.’ A budget held flat is a cut when considering the current inflation rate. We cannot hope for economic development in this state without simultaneously investing in our children’s education.”
Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said this budget is far from the worst she’s voted on during her 12 years in office since this one, unlike some in the past, does not include widespread budget cuts.
But she also said not addressing budget needs in places like education or the criminal justice system, where she argued the state continues to operate as a “debtor’s prison” to cover costs, is not wise.
“At a time when we have the money to do it, it’s not a Herculean effort,” she said. “We didn’t do it last year, we are not doing it this year. So what that tells me, Mr. Speaker, is that it is not a priority.”
Trevor Brown covered politics, elections, health policies and government accountability issues for Oklahoma Watch. Call or text him at (630) 301-0589. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tbrownokc