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Critics slam process for OKing Oklahoma’s $6.8 billion budget bill

OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are complaining about how two budget panels approved a $6.8 billion spending bill shortly before midnight that slashes spending to most Oklahoma state agencies.

Rank-and-file legislators were given few details ahead of Tuesday night’s vote on the spending plan that cuts funding for most state agencies by nearly 5 percent. Public schools were spared from cuts, and a handful of state agencies were given spending increases, but the final version of the bill did not include funding for a teacher pay raise.

Republican and Democratic critics of the spending plan maintain it is unconstitutional because bills to raise revenue were approved in the final week of session and did not receive a three-fourth’s majority vote that is required of tax-raising measures.

Gov. Fallin released the following statement on Wednesday.

“Developing a budget in this difficult fiscal and political climate is never easy. This plan keeps our government from shutting down. It is not an ideal budget, but it avoids draconian cuts to our core services such as education, health and human services, and public safety; unfortunately it leaves many agencies facing cuts for the sixth year in a row. It puts some recurring revenue on the table, but does not address the structural budget challenges that I have been working to fix since I took office. Year after year, I have repeated my warning about our reliance on one-time funding and our eroding tax base, and yet again we have crafted a budget that only fixes some of the defects in our funding formula.

“Let there be no mistake, there is still work to do. When legislators return next year, they will already face a $400 million hole caused by one-time funds and $100 million of obligations coming due over the next 12 months that will need to be paid. Hopefully, in the months that follow they will begin putting together a real plan to address the budget to fill that hole when they return in February of 2018 – an election year when we know it is difficult to pass revenue measures.

 State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister also commented saying:
“While the budget crisis has been a formidable challenge for all involved, I am deeply grateful that the Oklahoma State Legislature has worked hard to successfully make the school funding formula whole for common education. This has been a tough process and many state agencies have weathered steep cuts, but legislators deserve praise for prioritizing education on behalf of Oklahoma’s schoolchildren. Under the trailer bill, the Legislature will ensure that the funding formula is preserved and that the state fulfills its statutory obligation to cover 100 percent of the health insurance costs so vital for educators. This agreement is welcome news for Oklahoma schools after a year of uncertainty and financial hardship.”