Oklahoma Legislature needs to improve budget process, lawmaker says
Oklahoma state Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, said suggestions include more involvement from legislators and giving them more time to review the proposed budget. He's seeking ideas from House members and senators as well as from the governor's office.
Getting more lawmakers involved to scrutinize agency spending instead of private negotiations by only a few would improve Oklahoma's process in developing a state budget, a longtime legislator says.
Legislative term limits have transformed agency knowledge from lawmakers to agency heads and lobbyists, and the secret nature of the budget work results in legislators not having enough time to review the proposed appropriations bill, Rep. Gus Blackwell said.
“A lot of times decisions are made under pressure and really aren't the best decisions,” he said. “When you look at the budget itself, a lot of times it's the result and work of a small group within the Legislature.
“If someone has a special interest or pet projects that they want to push, it usually comes as a result of a trade-off between the Senate getting what they want, the House getting what they want and the executive branch getting what they want rather than what is good budget procedure.”
A simple suggestion would be requiring a budget agreement to be approved two weeks before the session is scheduled to end so lawmakers have time to study it, he said.
“Unless we change the process, we'll never really see areas of waste and areas of need,” Blackwell said.
This year, an almost circuslike atmosphere occurred in the House of Representatives when members on the second last day of the session at first defeated the $6.8 billion budget. House Republican leaders rounded up allies to vote for it while others, concerned about the cost of having a special session if lawmakers adjourned without a budget, relented and voted for the money bill.
Blackwell, R-Laverne, said there has to be a better way.
“I think the entire process has to be changed,” he said.
Blackwell, who was elected without opposition to his last two-year term that begins in November, called a meeting of House members last week to discuss the budget process. About 15 from both political parties along with a couple House fiscal staff members either attended the meeting, which was not publicized to members and staff outside the House, or talked and sent emails, he said.
Blackwell said he plans to hold similar meetings with senators and members of the governor's office. Budget negotiations usually involve two or three leaders from the House and Senate and the governor and others from her office.
With a new speaker taking over in the House next year, it might be a good time to suggest proposals on improving the budget-making process, he said.
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