Oklahoma Rep. explains 183% increase to legislative agency’s budget; questions remain

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

OKLAHOMA CITY -  Lawmakers proposed a $6.8 billion budget on Tuesday, which meant that several state agencies would see their funding decrease amid the state's budget crisis.

However, a couple of agencies did not see their budgets fall. Instead, they increased.

The Department of Corrections received an extra $1 to its budget under the current plan, after agency officials said a cut could have drastic ramifications for public safety.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission and the State Election Board saw their budgets increase by nearly $1 million and $300,000, respectively.

There was one drastic increase that caused some people to scratch their heads.

In a surprise move, lawmakers proposed a 183 percent increase for the Legislative Service Bureau. Its budget, which was not affected by the budget crisis, jumped from more than $4.8 million at the beginning of fiscal year 2016 to more than $13.8 for fiscal year 2017.

According to the state website, the Legislative Service Bureau is responsible for serving “the Legislature by providing services as directed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.”

However, lawmakers say not everything is as it seems.

On Wednesday, Rep. Earl Sears told the Oklahoman that the $9 million increase to the Legislative Service Bureau's budget was necessary so that salaries of staff members and lawmakers would be funded.

"We will be in the red if we don't do something," Sears said. "We wouldn't be able to make payroll at a date in the future."

Right now, state agencies, including the House of Representative and the Oklahoma Senate, pay salaries using allotted funds that are provided to them through the budget.

But lawmakers say this would change, meaning that the Legislative Service Bureau would also be responsible for paying the salaries of legislators.

The House of Representatives and the Senate took  a 19 percent cut, dropping their budgets to $12,497,306 and $9,335,506 respectively.

Under the current plan, the House's budget would drop about $3 million and the Senate's would drop about $2 million.

If lawmakers simply moved the money from those cuts to the Legislative Service Bureau's budget, that would only equal an additional $5 million.

Now, many people are asking about the extra $4 million that is built into the budget.

According to the summary of the budget provided by the state, that money is almost equal to the money the state receives from the tax refund of the statute of limitations reform, which generates $9.1 million

That $9 million is actually less than the money generated from the following:

  • Withheld income tax reconciliation: $4.4 million
  • Court revenue: $4 million
  • Railroad reconstruction credit reform: $122,570
  • Elimination of a tax credit for child care facilities : $115,744.

"Yeah, it really seems kind of shocking that at a time when all across state government we're seeing deep cuts that are having real painful impacts on thousands of Oklahomans that the only area of state government that apparently is deemed worthy of an increase is the Legislature itself," said David Blatt, with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

On Wednesday, the Oklahoma Senate approved the budget, sending it to the House of Representatives.

The House and Senate must approve the budget by Friday or call for a special session.