Oklahoma agency heads should consider tapping revolving funds and other available funds to provide pay increases for state workers, the chairman of a legislative budget committee said Wednesday.
“Agencies that have money, they don't have to come to us to give their employees raises,” said Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman. “They can do that. I would encourage those that have the ability and the flexibility to do that without harming their operations to consider their employees.”
The $7.1 billion legislatively appropriated budget for the upcoming fiscal year does not have an across-the-board pay increase for Oklahoma's approximately 34,000 state employees, including correctional officers and state troopers.
Special budget committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate each passed House Bill 2301. The House is expected to take up the bill Thursday afternoon. If approved, it could be taken up by the Senate early next week and sent on to the governor by the end of the week.
The House budget committee voted 18-8 to pass HB 2301, with Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Sally Kern, voting against.
Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said priorities are “out of whack” because the budget called for $5 million to renovate legislative space and offices in the state Capitol but didn't contain raises for state troopers or correctional officers.
“My concern is troopers, public safety is a core function of government and I think that should have a higher priority,” she said.
Martin, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said a special House budget committee will take up nearly 20 bills Thursday morning that contain line-item expenditures for state agencies, such as the state Education Department, the Department of Human Services and the Corrections Department.
Some committee members complained Wednesday about the budget process, saying it included only a handful of Republican legislative leaders, leaving out most of the 149 legislators.
“This process needs to be open to the public,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. “There's a better way to do this.”
Martin, who let committee members ask questions on the measure for more than an hour, said he would allow further questions when HB 2301 is taken up Thursday on the floor.
“I owe it to you and the rest of the members to be as fair as I can,” he said.
The budget represents a 3.9 percent increase in legislative appropriations, or about $267 million, for the 2014 fiscal year compared with this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Martin said most of the additional money is earmarked for education, mental health, human services, health care and transportation.