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Oklahoma representative who spoke out against House leaders removed from committee position

OKLAHOMA CITY - Just one day after speaking out against leaders in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, a well-known representative has been removed from her position as the head of a house budget committee.

State Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, was relieved of her duties as chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee by House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, Tuesday afternoon. Wellston Rep. Kevin Wallace was named chairman; he had previously served as vice-chairman.

Osborn's removal comes one day after she and two other Republican state representatives criticized house leadership for comments made after the Oklahoma Department of Human services announced last week it was cutting $30 million in services because of a lack of funding from the state.

“We’ve taken quite a few hits over the last few years,” said spokeswoman Sheree Powell, noting the agency has cut $80 million over the last two years. “We’re now at the point where we’re really jeopardizing our ability to implement our programs and serve Oklahomans.”

The state budget allocated $699.9 million in funding for DHS in the last legislative session; nearly $50 million more than what was given to the agency in fiscal year 2017.

But the 2017 funding of $651.5 million only covered 10 months. DHS officials say February's revenue failure slashed $4.2 million from the agency; DHS had to go back to the state and ask for an additional $34 million in March. The agency's total funding in 2017 came to $681.3 million.

Following the department's announcement last Tuesday, House Speaker Charles McCall said the agency owes taxpayers an explanation for why it could afford the programs last year, but cannot this year after receiving a funding boost.

“Frankly, I am perplexed as to why an agency that could afford these programs last year would claim it can no longer afford them this year after receiving a $53 million increase from taxpayers,” said McCall. “This is an agency that received $700 million in taxpayer dollars last session. We worked diligently during the legislative session to meet the needs of the agency as Director Lake requested, so this announcement to cut programs is surprising, to say the least.”

Following comments by McCall and House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, Osborn sent a news release with Rep. Pat Ownbey and Rep. Earl Sears in support of DHS.

"There's no doubt that DHS’s costs have grown far in excess of appropriations," said Osborn. "Over the last few years, the Legislature has worked hard to increase the appropriation from $672 million to $700 million, but we can't discount the fact that, during this same period, DHS has faced cost increases and lost revenue totaling at least $175 million. That is obviously far more than the $28 million increase in appropriations.

"This agency serves foster children, the disabled, the elderly, and those who cannot help themselves. It is not directing dollars to a nameless agency; it is directing dollars to lives," she said. "Any and all decisions to make cuts were devastating to the staff, the management, and the appropriators."

Osborn said that the cuts to the program should come as no surprise to anyone at the Capitol.

"We have met with (DHS Director Ed Lake) and his staff on numerous occasions, and they have always been open and honest with their concerns of state funding. Director Lake shared these same thoughts with our members during the budget meetings held this year in the House," Osborn said.

Just one day after releasing those statements in favor of DHS, an email obtained by NonDoc shows that Osborn had been removed from her position as committee chairwoman.

On Tuesday, McCall sent an email to House members, saying that Osborn would no longer lead the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

"I wanted you to be the first to know that I have replaced Rep. Osborn as Chair of the Appropriations and Budget Committee.

Rep. Kevin Wallace is now Chair of the Appropriations and Budget Committee. I was greatly impressed with Kevin's knowledge and capabilities of the budget process last session, and I appreciated his willingness to engage with all members of our Caucus. I believe he will serve our caucus and state well in his new role.

As always, I welcome the opportunity to visit with you personally about this matter or any other issue of significance to you. Please call me any time if you have questions."

On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Osborn released the following statement:

"Speaker McCall’s decision to relieve me of my duties as Chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee is his to make. I am disheartened by his decision, but I am not deterred in my desire to work for the betterment of our wonderful State. Oklahomans are calling out for leadership, and I intend to answer their call. Oklahomans across the state have told me they are utterly disgusted at the divisive way we conduct our business at the State Capitol. It is a sad day when we cannot have an honest conversation about the major financial and budget issues we face as a state. I have always been willing to find solutions through conversations instead of conflict. Be assured, I will continue to stand up for finding achievable solutions to the myriad of problems in Oklahoma that keep us mired in mediocracy. I am here to serve and serving Oklahomans is what I intend to do. To that end, I want to say thank you for the overwhelming support I’ve received from members of the House and the public since this news was released. I’m humbled and uplifted by this sincere support. I also appreciate Speaker McCall allowing me the privilege to chair this committee," Osborn wrote.

In a news release, McCall said that Wallace served as vice chair of the committee during the 2017 legislative session.

“Representative Wallace performed very well last session during the most challenging fiscal revenue situation in recent memory,” said Speaker McCall. “He works well with our entire caucus, and he has the experience, diligence and skillset to serve Oklahoma well in this very important role. I am looking forward to working with him as we continue budget discussions in the coming weeks.”

McCall's public news release made no mention of Rep. Osborn. His spokesman Jason Sutton telling NewsChannel 4 "The decision has nothing to do with any remarks. The speaker makes decisions he believes are in the best interest of the House Republican caucus."