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$6.8 billion state budget bills advance with cuts to some agencies’ funding

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Two multi-billion dollar state budget appropriations bills passed out of a house committee late Tuesday night that would keep funding levels the same for some agencies, while cutting dozens of others.

In less than forty minutes, two nearly identical $6.8 billion budget appropriations bills passed out of the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget shortly before a midnight deadline Tuesday. The house and senate bills also passed in the senate.

But the circumstances surrounding their passage -- namely questions of how much certain agencies were being cut -- were met with frustration from committee house Democrats and one Republican who voted against the legislation.

"It's hardly helpful for us to have this document if we don't have the breakdown," said Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie. "Where is the breakdown and shouldn't we have it before we consider the budget?"

Text of the two bills, HB 2400 and SB 860, weren't available for legislators to view until after 11:00 p.m.; spreadsheets breaking down the year-to-year funding changes weren't available at all.

The bill texts 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 Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.

"This has got to be the strangest year I've seen since I've been here," said Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs.

Committee chair Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, said 13 agencies' funding levels will remain the same, leaving 57 agencies to face cuts; 4 to 5 percent with SB 860 or up to eight percent with HB 2400, which included $1,000 teacher pay raises.

"Do I wish we could have done more? Absolutely," said Osborn. "But this is what we have and this is what I hope you will support."

Osborn and other Republicans lobbed blame onto Democrats for not backing previous revenue raising measures -- which would have required some, if not all of House Democrats' votes -- like on a since-failed $1.50 cigarette tax.

Democrats had pushed for raising the state's tax on oil and gas, in exchange for their votes.

But after negotiations between majority and minority leadership broke down over the last several days, Republicans have begun running bills that would not require 76 votes, but just 51 votes to pass on the house floor.

Such bills, like a $1.50 fee on cigarettes for a smoking cessation program and a 1.25 percent levy on motor vehicle sales, also passed out of the house budget committee Tuesday night.

"It's not the way I would have preferred, but unfortunately, it's what we have," said Osborn. "We had to quickly put together what we could with 51 vote measures to try to save the fiscal health of the state. That was not accomplished until late this afternoon."