Oklahoma legislators reach $6.7 billion budget deal

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: May 20, 2010 at 11:13 pm •  Published: May 20, 2010

House and Senate Democrats, who have enough members in each chamber to kill the so-called emergency clauses in the bills, said earlier they would exercise that option if certain items weren't in the budget agreement.

Three of four items sought by Democratic legislators are in the budget � about $5 million to restore funding for the senior nutrition program, a reduction in available tax credits, and keeping intact most of the funding for a rural development program, the Rural Economic Action Plan, which is targeted to receive $12.4 million.

Democrats also pressed for a hospital provider fee, which is not in the budget.

Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, the House Democrats' designated leader for next session, said the inclusion of the new insurance fee on health claims satisfies House Democrats' desire for a new funding source to keep budget cuts to state agencies below 10 percent.

Inman and Senate Democratic leader Charles Laster of Shawnee said they were pleased.

"I'm convinced the additional money from the (insurance) claims fee would not have been in the budget had it not been for the work of the Democrats in the House and Senate," Laster said.

Cuts to most education, public safety and health care agencies were kept near 3 percent.

Cuts to most other state agencies are about 7 percent, much less than the 10 to 12 percent cuts that some agency heads feared.

The proposed $6.7 billion budget is about 7.6 percent less than the $7.2 billion budget for the 2010 fiscal year that was approved last session. But shortly after the 2010 fiscal year started, revenue came in significantly below estimates and 7.5 percent across-the-board cuts were instituted against most state agencies, many of which already were cut 7 percent in the original 2010 fiscal year budget.

Republican legislative leaders and the governor, left with $5.4 billion to spend this session, earlier agreed on how to use nearly $600 million in the Rainy Day Fund and federal stimulus money to plug a nearly $300 million hole at the end of the 2010 fiscal year.

"This budget represents the tough decisions we have said all session would be required to fill a $1.2 billion shortfall, which inevitably will touch every aspect of state government," said House Speaker Chris Benge,R-Tulsa. "This budget insulates vital government services like public safety, transportation, health care and education from dramatic cuts while also leaving our state in a fiscally sound position for the next Legislature and beyond."

"In divided government," said Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, "parties have to work together to do the people's business. During a tight budget year, this agreement provides a responsible reduction in spending and protects taxpayers from a tax increase."

CONTRIBUTING: JULIE BISBEE, CAPITOL BUREAU

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