Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Mary Fallin agreed on a mostly flat budget Monday evening for most state agencies, although extra money is allocated to several areas to take care of specific needs such as the Department of Human Services and common education.
The agreement for the 2013 fiscal year, which starts July 1, totals $6.8 billion, or about $200 million more than legislators were told in February by budget officials that they would have available to spend. The extra money comes from getting funds from various revolving accounts and cash funds.
Lawmakers Monday night approved several bills needed for the House of Representatives and the Senate to act on the budget before the session is scheduled to end this week. Lawmakers must have their work done by 5 p.m. Friday.
Announcement of the deal was delayed several hours when House Republicans resisted approving a proposed income tax-cutting measure. The deal was announced after House Republicans met three times in closed caucus meetings to discuss the budget and a proposed income tax cut.
Support among House Republicans for the proposal to reduce the top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.8 percent appeared to be slipping Monday.
Opposition was growing as more numbers showed the measure would result in an increased tax burden for low- and middle-class Oklahomans.
A vote is expected Tuesday or Wednesday in the House on the bill.
The $6.8 billion budget agreement is about 3.2 percent more than the $6.6 billion lawmakers will end up spending this fiscal year.
Lawmakers were authorized to spend $6.4 billion for the current fiscal year; the extra $200 million comes from federal funds and extra available cash on hand, said Preston Doerflinger, who serves as revenue and finance secretary on Fallin's Cabinet.
Agencies getting increased funding in the proposed budget agreement include:
• State Education Department: $52.4 million supplemental for flexible benefit allowances for teachers and support staff ($37.6 million) and National Board Certified teacher bonuses ($14.8 million). Plans are to include those items in future budgets.
• CareerTech: $1.4 million for operations, which will be included in future budgets.
• Higher Education: $10 million for operations, which will be included in future budgets.
• Transportation Department: $99 million to repay a transfer of funds this fiscal year. It ensures the agency's eight-year road and bridge plan remains intact.
• Department of Human Services: $25 million for the Pinnacle Plan, the result of a settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit earlier this year. The plan addresses 15 areas, including caseload, number of placements and recruitment of foster homes and calls for a series of reforms that include hiring 200 child welfare workers and 40 supervisors, recruiting 1,000 traditional foster families, granting pay raises to foster parents and child welfare workers and eliminating the use of state shelters for young abused and neglected children. DHS also is to get $17 million to replace one-time funding last year.
• Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department: $5.5 million for systems of care grant and for an additional crisis center; $667,000 for mental health screenings to determine the risks and needs of each offender. About $118.5 million would be transferred from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to take over the handling of behavioral health programs.
• University Hospitals Authority: $3 million for the Tisdale center in north Tulsa.
• Veterans Affairs Department: $1 million to increase nursing staff and reduce staff/patient ratios.
• Medical examiner's office: $1.5 million to obtain reaccreditation by increasing personnel and getting additional equipment. The $1.5 million will be included in future budgets.
• Public Safety Department: $5 million for an annual trooper academy with capacity for 40 participants.
The budget agreement also calls for a $1 million increase for the House and Senate operations. Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the funding is to make up for budget cuts the past couple years.
The agreement does not include any funding to pay the debt service of any bond issues.
Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said lawmakers will take up three bond issues this week:
• $200 million for the state Capitol complex, which would repair and restore the Capitol (which could cost as much as $160 million), and to repair other buildings on the Capitol complex, such as the Jim Thorpe Building, the Governor's Mansion and perhaps building a new building for the Veterans Affairs Department.
• $40 million for the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City to match $40 million in private funding, which should complete the approximately $170 million project by 2014.
• $20 million for a proposed Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa.
No money to make the debt service payments is in the 2013 fiscal year budget because any bond issue winning legislative approval would go through a lengthy process and payments wouldn't be due until the 2014 fiscal year, Sears said.
Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, said the budget proposal calls for inadequate funding of education.
“When you look at where common education funding was in 2009 and compare it to the proposed budget, we've seen state-appropriated dollars decreased by more than $200 million,” he said.
“Higher education is down by more than $83 million, and CareerTech's appropriation has been slashed by more than $22 million. Parents in Jenks are holding fundraisers to hire new teachers and meet the basic needs of their schools. College tuition rates are at an all-time high and will continue to climb. The Legislature is failing its citizens.”
David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said he also is concerned about the proposed budget.
“We can already see the result in rising class sizes and tuition costs, roads and public buildings going unrepaired, and public safety workers and caregivers for the most vulnerable who remain overburdened and underpaid,” said Blatt, whose organization supports adequate, fair and fiscally responsible funding of public services.