The $7.1 billion budget bill is on its way to the Senate after winning approval Thursday in the House. But not until after House Democrats came up with an alternative spending plan that would shift spending from building repairs to pay raises for state employees.
The House of Representatives voted 59-40 to pass House Bill 2301, with 12 Republicans joining 28 Democrats opposing the measure. No Democrat voted for the bill that sets out spending guidelines for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The Senate will take up the measure early next week. It could be sent to the governor by the end of next week.
House members, mostly Democrats, quizzed Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, for more than two hours on the budget, questioning why with the budget nearly 4 percent more than this year's that no money could be found for pay raises for state troopers and correctional officers, who have gone several years without raises.
“How can they not take it as a slap in the face?” asked Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener.
Martin, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said the GOP House leadership advocated raises for state troopers. Gov. Mary Fallin since the start of this year's session had called for not granting pay raises this year for the state's approximately 34,000 employees. Instead, she backs a study that would compare the pay and benefits of state employees with those paid in the private sector.
Martin also said agency heads could take money from revolving funds to provide pay increases for state workers. Martin said the Corrections Department has about $22 million in revolving funds, of which at least $13 million is not tied to specific purposes, and the Public Safety Department has about $26 million in revolving funds.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, released an alternative budget about an hour before the House took HB 2301. It included raises for troopers and correctional officers as well as state employees receiving a one-time $1,000 bonus. The plan also called for providing an extra $44 million on top of the $74 million increase for public schools that is in HB 2301.
Democrats in their plan took $22 million from a state panel that was charged with maintaining state buildings along with $7 million earmarked to pay for legislative operations and to renovate vacant space in the state Capitol into legislative offices and committee rooms. Inman said $50 million could be taken from the $60 million that Fallin and the Legislature agreed to be spent on Capitol repairs in the upcoming fiscal year.
“This budget is a clear indication of the budget authors' priorities,” he said. “Apparently it's more important to renovate buildings and office space than it is to educate our children or to fund public safety.”