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Oklahoma could have a state budget deal soon, negotiators say

A budget deal could be struck soon on a $7 billion spending package for the state of Oklahoma for the upcoming fiscal year, negotiators say.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: April 29, 2013

Talks on developing Oklahoma's legislatively appropriated budget of $7 billion are progressing and seem to be ahead of schedule, budget negotiators say.

House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Scott Martin, R-Norman, said last week that budget negotiators with the House of Representatives, the Senate and the governor's office are the closest they've been at this point in the session in the five years he has been involved in budget talks.

Republican legislative leaders said last week that they could finish their work by May 24, or a week earlier than lawmakers are authorized to stay in session this year.

With Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders striking a deal last week on three key agreements, budget talks will accelerate on coming up with a spending package for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1, said Preston Doerflinger, who serves as finance secretary on Fallin's Cabinet.

Talks have been underway for weeks between GOP legislative leaders and the Republican governor.

Doerflinger confirmed that House and Senate budget leaders, along with the governor's office, each have been preparing a budget with a quarter-percent cut in the top personal income tax rate built in. That would amount to about a $40 million reduction in revenue during the first fiscal year of its implementation.

One of the agreements deals with reducing the state's top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent, but not until Jan. 1, 2015. With the tax cut postponed a year, budget negotiators instead will replace its lost revenue with a $60 million appropriation for state Capitol repairs, which is part of the income tax-cutting deal.

“With that put to bed, we know what we have to work with,” Doerflinger said. “We've agreed on revenues.”

Spending plans

Lawmakers have about $213 million in additional revenue through increased tax collections this year to appropriate. They also could have some additional funds as well from various accounts.

Much attention has been paid recently to the governor's office and legislative leaders considering an increase of between $75 million and $100 million for public schools. Some of the additional money would pay for unfunded requirements passed by legislators the past couple of years. Earlier changes approved but not funded by lawmakers include better reading education and end-of-instruction exams in public schools.

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