With just nine business days until the end of the session, GOP leaders finally released the state’s annual budget plan Monday evening.

Crafting, and then approving, the multi-billion dollar measure is among the most important tasks the Legislature must complete each year.

But time and time again, the public doesn’t even get a glimpse of the plan until the final days of the session. And in contrast to some bills that take months to move through the legislative process, the budget is typically approved just days later.

Part of the reason for this is simple logistics: Lawmakers need to know what other bills, especially those that carry a price tag, will pass first so they know how much money is available.

And even though the GOP controls the governor’s office, House and Senate, the three groups must still overcome disagreements on where to put the money or how much should be saved.

But Democrats and some advocacy groups have long argued it doesn’t have to be this way.

During a press conference at the end of last year’s session, Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said the process has been so rushed in recent years that lawmakers have been handed bills, still warm from the printer, minutes before they had to vote on them in committee. 

“We need time to see and analyze the bills and that means having enough time for the public and our constituents to see and analyze those bills,” she said. “You don’t ask someone to buy a home and sign a mortgage without reading it first.”

Democrats also took aim at the inability of lawmakers from either party to suggest amendments to the budget after it is announced. As a result of this rule, Minority Leader Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said all the Legislature can do is “rubber stamp” the proposal that a few in leadership helped craft. 

“You deserve better from your state government and elected officials,” she said.

Oklahoma is not alone in developing spending plans largely behind closed doors. But national studies, including one by The Center for Public Integrity in 2016, found Oklahoma to be among the least transparent. 

The public has very little opportunities or time to weigh in on the budget as well.

Unlike several other states, Oklahoma does not require — and rarely offers — the public a chance to comment before bills reach a final vote. This also holds true for the budget bill, which sometimes can be put on a committee’s agenda with just hours or minutes of notice.

While we don’t know the exact date when the budget will come out, it appears the budget will once again need to be fast-tracked to make it to the governor’s desk by the May 27 sine die deadline.

But 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 tbrown@oklahomawatch.org or find me on Twitter at @tbrownokc

Tweet Watch

Keith Reed, who had been serving as Oklahoma State Department of Health’s interim Commissioner of Health for seven months, was officially confirmed in the role this week.  

As Quorum Call’s Tyler Talley reports, he will be the third to lead the agency since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • A proposal that dictates that the Oklahoma Election Board compile an annual list of registered voter addresses has won final legislative approval. If 10 or more people are registered at any given address, the local district attorney is required to investigate. [The Oklahoman]
  • Pressure is mounting on the Legislature to overturn a veto of a measure that seeks to require financial disclosures for any gubernatorial appointees to agency director or cabinet secretary posts. [Enid News & Eagle]
  • The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case the state of Oklahoma hopes will give it permission to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Native Americans in Indian Country. [Cherokee Phoenix]
  • The vast majority of Oklahomans eligible for a second COVID-19 booster haven’t gotten one, data shared by the state Health Department shows.  [Oklahoman]
  •  A lawsuit filed last week contends the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is not following the law when it comes to how it will pay for upcoming projects. [Norman Transcript]

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