Oklahoma House passes $8 billion budget

OKLAHOMA CITY - After more than two and a half hours of questioning and debate, the Oklahoma House of Representatives has a passed a budget plan with more than $8 billion in spending.

House Bill 2765 appropriates $8.1 billion to state agencies. Divided by party lines, it passed the Oklahoma House on Friday by a vote of 76 to 23.

The proposed budget would put $200 million in savings.

"That money is there to protect core services in the next Oklahoma downturn. We need that savings. Everybody who was here knows that. Everybody new should understand our history," said Rep. Terry O'Donnell, R-Tulsa.

Under the plan, $203 million would be dedicated to public education with $157.7 million for common education. It would support an average $1,220 pay raises for teachers and $74.3 for local schools to use to hire additional teachers.

State employees would receive an additional pay raise of up to $1,300, while $1.7 million would be spent to create the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency.

However, Democratic opponents questioned whether the $200 million to be saved could be better spent.

"We have to properly fund our criminal justice system. Folks, these are people that are not wealthy. These are people that are mentally ill," said Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City. "These are people that are poor, but what are we doing?"

Others questioned what the proposed budget would do to make up for budget cuts from past years.

"Higher education, as I’ve already said, has been cut by $260 million. It’s true, we’re giving them in increase but does that increase do anything for rising tuition and fees? No. Does that do anything to restore the $10 million that were cut in scholarships for low income students? No," said Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Oklahoma City. "The Department of Health has been cut by $14 million over the last 10 years. We’re giving them about $6 million, but 2 million of that is simply a passthrough to crisis pregnancy centers."

Despite opposition, supporters insisted the plan is a good balance. Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City called the bill "the easiest one" he's ever voted for.

"Here’s what the budget really comes down to: one side believes that we should save money; one side believes that it is fiscally responsible not to spend every single penny," Echols said. "The other side doesn't."

The bill is now eligible to be heard by the full Senate. We're told the earliest it could be heard is next Tuesday.

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