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Oklahoma House passes bill featuring budget cuts for agencies

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A bill that features budget cuts for several agencies passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon after narrowly passing budget committees.

On Tuesday afternoon, the House committee passed House Bill 1019 by a vote of 17-13. It later passed the Senate's committee with a final vote of 7-5.

The bill includes $60 million worth of cuts across various state agencies while also using millions in Rainy Day funds, carryover cash, and revolving money. It also includes a recently passed measure to raise the gross production tax ('GPT') on legacy wells.

There are, however, cuts to the agencies that would have received $215 million from the cigarette fee, which was deemed unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Those agencies include the Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Those three agencies are now facing cuts between $4 and $15 million.

Although the agencies are still facing cuts, supporters of the bill say the alternative is worse.

"Taking no action or voting no today will end up with major, major cuts to those three agencies," said Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston. "I, for one, am not willing to do that."

The bill also includes cuts to various agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Ethics Commission, House of Representatives and the Senate. All of these agencies face cuts between 2.5% and 2.7% under this proposal. The Department of Education, Election Board, and the Department of Corrections would be among those facing no cuts.

On Wednesday afternoon, the House passed HB 1019 by a vote of 56 to 38.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

The Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus released the following statement after the bill passed:

“Today's passage of the revised general appropriations bill, House Bill 1019, reflects a failure of the Republican majority to listen to their constituents, invest in the state’s future, and uphold their commitment to continue services for our most vulnerable populations. The measure cuts nearly 50 agencies an average of 2.5 percent with only seven months left in the fiscal year. All of these cuts will come from remaining funding effectively doubling the percentage cut.

Because this budget relies so heavily on one-time funding, including the raiding of several agency revolving funds and draining the state's savings account, House Republicans have once again guaranteed a budget shortfall for the next legislative session.

Republican leadership has thrown up their hands and claimed this budget is the only option. This is patently false. They have refused to bring up several recurring revenue measures that only require 51 votes, including capping the itemized deduction and eliminating the capital gains exemption.

Additionally, Republican leadership team failed on their promise to bring 75 percent of their caucus in support of a recurring revenue package that included a modest increase in the gross production tax.

After two months of games, the Republican majority has passed the budget they had long intended; one that blindly cuts funding from agencies without consideration of the effects of those cuts. It has become painfully obvious that Republicans at the State Capitol never intended to solve the budget crisis during this special session. For seven weeks, House Republican leadership has given false hope to state employees, teachers, seniors, and many other groups desperate for stability and much-deserved pay raises. By the former Appropriation & Budget Chair's own admission, this entire special session has been orchestrated to lead to this very outcome.

House Democrats will continue to fight for responsible, equitable, and stable revenue raising measures that will put our state on a more solid fiscal path going forward, including the revenue measures referenced above, a restoration of income tax cuts for high earners, and a restoration of the gross production tax cuts that have made Oklahoma's rate the lowest in the nation.”

House Speaker Charles McCall released the following statement:

"The budget plan passed today by the House of Representatives will immediately end the healthcare crisis created by the loss of revenue from the cigarette fee, and will ensure that vital health programs and services will continue without interruption. This plan will also ensure that 12 essential agencies will receive no further cuts during this fiscal year, including common education, corrections and rehabilitation services. While not a perfect solution, this bill absolutely addresses the immediate need. I encourage the Senate to move on this plan quickly to ensure our most vulnerable citizens can maintain their health services.”