Sunshine in store for Memorial Day weekend

Gov. Fallin signs bills appropriating millions to DHS and Healthcare Authority

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin has signed two bills appropriating millions to two government agencies.

Without debate Friday morning, the House passed a bill allocating more than $17 million to the Healthcare Authority by a vote of 87-0. Lawmakers also passed a bill securing $26.5 million to the Department of Human Services by a vote of 91-0.

"I appreciate the bipartisan and quick support of the Legislature in approving these two measures,” Fallin said in a statement. “Senate Bill 1XX prevents provider rates from being cut next month. This will help ensure Oklahomans have access to doctors and other health care providers through at least the spring.​"

There was, however, questions raised on the floor.

"Just as a body here, do you find it ironic that this body is holding court if you will, over agencies on how they spend their money and how they’ve misallocated or how they’ve misappropriated some of their funding?" questioned Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Oklahoma City. "But here we are as a body about to pass two different revenue measures that we’re not sure if the money’s there, that it’s just projections?"

Earlier this week, the same bills passed the Oklahoma Senate, allocating money from older gas wells to the Healthcare Authority and DHS. During the last special session, the Legislature passed a measure which would raise the gross production tax on older wells to 7%.

House Majority Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, called Friday a victory, but says it is only temporary. That money, which is still being collected, will be used to fund the two agencies through April.

"You will not be losing senior services. We will not be cutting provider rates. We will not be cutting adult daycares. We will not be cutting the Advantage Waiver Program which is deep to my heart," said Rep. Echols.

Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, said Friday was another example of a short-term fix.

"We weren’t really left with much of an option. It was either fund these agencies or let the whole system collapse," said Rep. Proctor. "We’ve had projections on every budget for the last five or six years that haven’t been accurate, so it is concerning that we need to move forward in a way that we know what our numbers are going to be before we vote."

Moving forward, he says he'd like to see a plan that includes what he calls "real revenue."

"We’ve cut education more than any other state in the country since 2008. We’ve cut our budget and our revenue by literally billions of dollars," said Proctor. "So, what I want to see is a plan that is not regressive, that doesn’t ask little from those who have much and much from those who have little."

Echols said a plan needs to include more than just revenue, but also reform. There are currently talks of an agreement between House and Senate leaders in the works.

"It includes a gross production tax increase, it includes maybe some changes in the wind tax credits. We’re looking at something maybe with gasoline tax, cigarette tax is obviously still on the table​," he explained.

Lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol in January. According to Echols, it is possible to be in both regular and special session at the same time.