Senate passes $6.8 billion budget bill, moves on to house

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Senate passed a $6.8 billion budget bill 33-13 Wednesday night, with just two days left before the end of session.

A Senate appropriations document for the bill shows 51 agencies will experience some type of cut, 16 will see appropriations increases and one seeing no funding change from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018, if approved and signed in to law.

"There isn’t a single one of us that’s thrilled with the numbers in this budget," said Sen. AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie, who voted in favor of the bill that doesn't include a teacher pay raise.

"Something that, unfortunately, we did not address because of the people in the other chamber that wanted to watch the boat from shore and tell us how it should be done."

"Is it the perfect budget? No. Will we ever see the perfect budget? No we won’t. We have to make choices," said Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona. "Sometimes compromise is a four letter word that we don’t like to use sometimes. That’s the ugly truth in this building. You can’t govern from the right, you cannot govern from the left, you must govern from the middle. It’s compromise."

The Department of Education will see a slight increase in funding by nearly one percent, while all other education agencies will see funding reductions between 3.42 to 4.87 percent; Commissioners of the Land Office (which manages state education assets for educational investment) funds are eliminated.

“I know this is hard. But the bottom line is when we don’t invest in our kids, we don’t invest in our future,” said Sen. JJ Dossett, D-Owasso, who voted against the bill. "It’s not just salary, it’s general funding and if we don’t address the teacher shortage, and that’s going to be an education cut we can’t heal.”

Seven Republicans, along with all senate Democrats, voted against the bill.

Four health agencies will receive funding increases from nearly one percent to 6.74 percent. The Department of Health will see its funding decrease by 3.45 percent and Department of Veteran Affairs by 0.68 percent.

The senate heard questions and debated on the bill for nearly 45 minutes Wednesday night before passing the legislation shortly before 10:00 p.m.

Revenue raising and its constitutionality, according to the state's constitution, was raised several times during the debate. The topic was also brought up earlier in the day when the senate passed a bill that would tack on $1.50 to the sale of cigarettes.

SB 860 must still pass the house and be signed by the governor before becoming law.