GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma hope to finalize budget deal by Monday
Lawmakers are talking about whether to issue bonds to repair and restore the state Capitol, build a state veterans office, finish the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and build a pops center in Tulsa.
Republican legislative leaders and the governor said Friday evening they are close to finalizing a $6.6 billion budget, but an agreement won't be finalized until Monday.
Private talks resumed Friday morning and continued until about 6 p.m. Lawmakers must approve a budget by 5 p.m. next Friday.
In addition to determining how to fund state agencies and services, lawmakers are talking about whether to issue bonds to repair and restore the state Capitol, build a state veterans office, finish the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and build a pops center in Tulsa. Building a new headquarters for the state medical examiner's office also is being discussed.
“We're having staff finalize a lot of things and on Monday we're going to finalize our thoughts on the budget,” said Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. “We feel very confident we'll have a budget come Monday.”
House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said talks have been productive.
“We're going to continue to talk over the weekend and meet with our caucuses on Monday,” he said.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, also said he expects an agreement will be presented to his GOP caucus Monday. “You all won't hear from us until Monday morning.”
“I don't think there can be an agreement until the speaker and pro tem talk to their caucus,” said Alex Weintz, Gov.
Committees have until Friday
Budget committees in the House of Representatives and Senate are ready to take up several bills that will be part of the 2013 budget, which takes effect July 1. After committees approve the bills, the measures will go to the House and Senate. Getting the budget bills started in committee Monday gives lawmakers enough time to get the legislation passed by Friday's deadline, but they don't have a lot of extra time in case any problems are encountered.
A robust state economy should prevent major cuts to agencies. Most state agencies have been cut the past three years as the state dealt with declining revenues caused by the national recession and declining natural gas prices.
High oil prices have fueled drilling activity in the state and are a major factor in the state's reviving economy.
Lawmakers have about $168 million, or 2.6 percent, more to spend this year compared with a year ago. This fiscal year's budget is $6.4 billion.
Fallin and GOP legislative leaders have said they intended to keep core services at least at present funding levels. Core services are described as education, public safety, transportation and health and human services. They make up nearly 90 percent of the budget.
Lawmakers already have passed legislation that will require new funding for the Department of Human Services and the state Corrections Department.
Legislators will take up measures next week in response to the settlement of a federal lawsuit in Tulsa. The class-action agreement is intended to create changes and improvements to the state's child-welfare system. The settlement between DHS and New York-based nonprofit Children's Rights creates a three-person panel to oversee progress in a plan addressing 15 areas, including caseload, number of placements and recruitment of foster homes.
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