$6.8 billion Oklahoma budget deal reached

Oklahoma lawmakers and the governor agree on a $6.8 billion budget deal.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: May 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm •  Published: May 21, 2012
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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.

Increased funding

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.