Saturday, May 1, 2021
With Less Than a Month Left in the Session, Legislature’s Budget Plan Remains Elusive
By Trevor Brown | Capitol/Investigative Reporter
Welcome to the final stretch.
Oklahoma lawmakers now have less than one month before they must finish their business and close out the session.
But one of the most important measures of the session still hasn’t seen the light of day.
Lawmakers have yet to unveil the state’s multi-billion dollar budget bill that will decide how much state agencies have to spend in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The left-leaning Oklahoma Policy Institute pointed out in a post this week that Oklahoma is one of only five states that haven’t introduced a budget yet this year. And unlike in many other states, Oklahoma rarely allows much discussion or public debate once it is released.
“Introducing a budget is an important step that lets residents know discussions are underway and their window to monitor and influence decisions is open,” wrote Paul Shinn, Oklahoma Policy Institute’s budget and tax senior policy analyst, in explaining why it’s important to have time to review the proposal. “They may also be able to see if the budget helps them or will reduce their services.”
But this is nothing new.
I wrote about this very topic five years ago in one of my first major articles with Oklahoma Watch after the budget was unveiled on the last Tuesday of the 2016 legislative session. And while lawmakers have released the budget plan slightly earlier on a few occasions since, not much has changed.
In my reporting on the subject, I talked to several experts and open-government advocates who said Oklahoma is not alone in developing spending plans largely behind closed doors. But they say the state’s budget process ranks among the least transparent in the country.
I also talked to legislative leaders who said it’s never their intention to roll out the budget in the final weeks, or even days, of the session. But because of the need to find agreement with the House, Senate and governor’s office, they said it’s typically unavoidable to get it out earlier.
What do you think? Should lawmakers do more to get the budget out earlier? And if so, how would you like to see the state’s budgeting process work? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter at @tbrownokc. I’d like to use some of your comments in an upcoming article or newsletter post.
The Top Story
As protests over George Floyd’s murder in police custody spread last spring, state legislative leaders told Oklahoma Watch that the Legislature had not adequately considered racial injustice and would be open to discussions about police reform.
Nearly a year later, Oklahoma Watch‘s Keaton Ross reports the Republican-led legislature has instead focused on passing legislation that increases penalties for demonstrators who disrupt public meetings and protects motorists who hurt or kill rioters. Bills that would have banned law enforcement use of chokeholds and created a statewide database of police officers who were fired or resigned before facing disciplinary action did not receive committee hearings. [Read more …]
After some heated debate, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill, largely along party lines, Thursday that would ban public school teachers from teaching critical race theory.
Republican supporters say this will prevent students from thinking that white people are inherently racist or sexist. But Democrats, along with members of the Oklahoma Black Legislative Caucus, argued this will further divide the state.
In this tweet, Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, even likened the passing of the legislation to hanging the Confederate Flag over the State Capitol.
What I’m Reading This Week
- The Oklahoma Senate went into a rare closed executive session Thursday after an Oklahoma City minister publicly rebuked a state senator Thursday for making what the clergyman described as “sexist,” “misogynistic” and “racist” public remarks about Vice President Kamala Harris. [The Oklahoman]
- A referendum petition has been filed seeking to overrun Oklahoma’s newly passed law that protects drivers who hurt or kill rioters. It will trigger a state question to veto the law if they collect 59,320 within a 90-day period & survive any legal challenges. [The Black Wall Street Times]
- Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law late Wednesday that will require high school graduates in Oklahoma to pass a citizenship test before they can receive their diploma. [KOSU]
- The governor also signed legislation to immediately outlaw abortion in Oklahoma if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 case that legalized abortion. [The Associated Press]
- In the debate over whether Oklahoma should privatize its Medicaid program, both supporters and opponents have pushed half-truths and unsupported claims. [The Frontier]
During times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma needs high-quality investigative journalism. That is our mission at Oklahoma Watch. We produce stories that hold government and public officials accountable and that make transparent what some prefer to keep secret. We depend on financial support from readers like you to sustain our coverage. Help us make a difference.