OKLAHOMA CITY – State leaders say they are cautiously optimistic after receiving word that there might be more money for state agencies next year.
Oklahoma lawmakers and the state’s new governor are expected to have hundreds of millions of new dollars to spend after years of budget crises that led to slashed spending for public schools and other services.
A state budget panel led by outgoing Gov. Mary Fallin approved a record $8.2 billion Wednesday that will be available to spend on next year’s budget. That represents an increase of about $612 million and is expected to trigger an avalanche of funding requests from cash-strapped state agencies.
Republicans and Democrats are pushing for more money for public schools, and the state’s largest teachers union is asking for more money for support personnel and school operations.
Other agencies, including Oklahoma’s prison system and higher education, also are seeking big boosts in spending.
On Wednesday, Senate President Pr Tempore Greg Treat and Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson said lawmakers and the public should not set unattainable goals for next year.
“Our financial picture is improving in Oklahoma thanks to a recovering economy and tough choices made by the Legislature,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “I’m optimistic about 2019 but want expectations to be realistic. Even though the preliminary estimate shows growing revenue, there are many existing obligations and priorities heading into next year. Senate Republicans will keep our commitment to teachers and want to build on the huge investment made in education last year. There are other critical needs the Legislature will prioritize and balance as we work on the budget.”
“It’s great news to anticipate growing revenue coming into the state, but we can’t overlook the expenses that must be covered. Before the first budget bill is even considered, the state has obligations like bond indebtedness, the ad valorem reimbursement fund, and replacing lost federal dollars that went to our state’s teaching hospitals,” Thompson said. “Agencies continue to hand in their budget requests for next year. Not every request is in but the total amount of budget increases being sought by agencies already exceeds the total amount of estimated new revenue. Senate Republicans have been at work on the next year’s budget since August and we’ll keep working hard to make sure we’re investing those new dollars in ways that reap a great return and provide maximum benefit for Oklahoma.”