Several Oklahoma lawmakers concerned about budget bills being unconstitutional

Oklahoma flags blowing in the wind at Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY  – With two days left in the legislative session, lawmakers are scrambling trying to put together a budget.

However, many lawmakers say it is already too late.

On Tuesday night, lawmakers met to vote on two bills for a potential $6.8 billion budget.

Text of the two bills, House Bill 2400 and Senate Bill 860, weren’t available for legislators to view until after 11 p.m.  Also, the bills weren’t available for the public or the press to review until after the meeting concluded.

“11 years. This is the least transparent, most ridiculous budgetary process I have ever seen,” said House Minority Leader Scott Inman.

Sen. David Holt criticized the plan to move forward with the budget, saying that no one could thoroughly look over the document and there was no summary provided.

“Never in my seven years here have I seen anything like this. This is the least transparent budget process I could possibly imagine. I have hosted interim studies on the need for more budget transparency. I have run bills for budget-only sessions. This process tonight goes against everything I believe about government transparency and deliberate consideration,” Holt posted in a series of tweets on Twitter.

Revenue-raising bills need three-quarters support from the Legislature in order to move forward.

However, after negotiations between the parties broke down earlier this month, Republicans unveiled bills that they said would not need Democratic support.

Democratic leaders say that although the bills passed, they fear there could be legal issues down the road.

Rep. Jason Dunnington says that Oklahoma’s Constitution clearly states that lawmakers cannot pass revenue raising measures in the last five days of session.

“If this budget passes on the House floor either today or tomorrow when we run it, it has $350 million of revenue in it that could get held up in the courts. So if a citizen or a corporation or someone believes that what we did was unconstitutional and files a suit, it could go to the Supreme Court and they could rule that indeed, it was unconstitutional. That would take that money out of a budget that we just passed for the FY ’17-’18, which would mean mid-year cuts. And those cuts could be disastrous to our schools, to our rural hospitals, to DHS, to nursing homes,” Rep. Dunnington said in a Facebook video.

The plan that was approved by the budget panels would cut most agencies by around 5%.

On Wednesday, Gov. Fallin released the following statement:

“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.