Republican leaders in Oklahoma’s House and Senate have seemingly aligned on teacher pay raises, directing more funds to school districts in low-income and rural areas and establishing a refundable tax credit system for private and homeschool families.
But the two chambers went back and forth last week over the final totals of a massive education package, estimated to exceed $750 million. Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, told reporters Thursday the chambers were close to an agreement, but progress stalled when House leadership requested an additional $100 million to be disbursed among school districts. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said in a statement that he’s encouraged by the negotiations and hopeful a deal will be reached soon.
“If we spend too much in one arena, we won’t be able to meet needs and have a sustainable budget going forward,” Treat said, noting that universities and nursing homes have reported rising costs. While the state entered 2023 with about $4 billion in savings, concerns over a possible economic slowdown have made the Senate cautious about accepting a larger package.
There’s also pressure from Gov. Kevin Stitt to pass an income tax reduction or eliminate the state portion of the grocery sales tax, both of which have passed out of the House and have yet to receive full Senate consideration. Implementing one or both of those plans would forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.
Questions over education funding and tax cuts have stalled the release of the state budget, which lawmakers and the governor must agree on by Friday, May 26 to avoid a special session. To give themselves time to override any possible gubernatorial vetoes, lawmakers have motivation to send a budget bill to the governor’s desk by the end of this week.
There’s plenty of other work to be done, from ironing out final details of measures sent to conference committees to considering overrides of dozens of bills Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed last month.
Democratic leaders expressed frustration last week that the state budget plan has yet to be released, noting that nearly every other state in the U.S. gives the public more time to evaluate budget proposals before they’re voted on.
“There’s a certain amount of responsibility to let our constituents know what’s going on, this budget is their lives,” said Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd. “They need to know what to expect, and we can’t do our job without that information.”
What do you hope lawmakers will prioritize? Let me know at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org.
What I’m Reading This Week
- ‘Prayer and Politics’: Fairview Baptist Church Walks Tightrope with IRS Code: Pastor Paul Blair invited Edmond mayoral candidate Brian Shellem to speak before the April 4 election, but his church may have violated portions of the IRS tax code by encouraging the congregation to vote for Shellem and donate to his campaign. [NonDoc]
- Longtime Grant Writer Says Ryan Walters Lied to Lawmakers, Federal Grant Money for Oklahoma in Jeopardy: Terri Grissom, who resigned from her role as director of grant development at the education department last month to take another job, said the agency has not applied for a single grant since Walters took office in January. [Tulsa World]
- Debate Mounts Over Future of Public Broadcaster’s Communication Towers: Stitt’s veto of a routine measure reauthorizing the existence of Oklahoma Educational Television Authority has created logistical and operational questions, including who ultimately owns the seven broadcast towers that quietly play a vital role in rural public safety. The towers have been maintained over the years with a mix of private OETA donations and state funding. [CNHI Oklahoma]
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.