Oklahoma Senate approves $8 billion budget

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma State Senate gave final approval to the state budget with more than $8 billion in spending.

House Bill 2765 appropriates $8.1 billion to state agencies, and 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 million 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.”

On Tuesday, the Senate gave final approval to the budget proposal.

“This is a tremendous budget for Oklahoma because it makes huge investments in our classrooms, gives teachers and state employees another significant pay raise, puts money toward criminal justice reforms, and saves $200 million to help in the event of an economic downturn in the future,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “Senate Republicans kept our commitment to invest in education by appropriating $74.4 million for our classrooms. We also addressed our priority to fund criminal justice reforms. The budget also shows fiscal restraint because we’re putting away $200 million in savings, bringing the state’s total amount of savings to $1 billion. I want to thank Senator Roger Thompson, the Senate appropriations chairman, for his hard work, skill, and leadership in crafting this budget deal. I also want to commend the senators who chaired Senate appropriations subcommittee for sharpening their pencils and helping put together a great budget.”

The budget now goes to Gov. Stitt's desk for consideration.

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