OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has signed a bill appropriating more than $8 billion to state agencies in the next fiscal year.
House Bill 2765, the general appropriations bill for $8.1 billion for Fiscal Year 2020, was signed into law Friday. The legislation was signed by Stitt, along with Senate Bill 1076 which sets aside $200 million for the state's savings.
"For the first time in state history, Oklahoma teachers will receive a pay raise for a second year in a row. This is going to go a long ways to letting teachers know how valued they are," Stitt said Friday. "2009 was our historic high water mark in education funding, so to let everybody know that was $2.5 billion that we funded public education in 2009. That was before the downturn, and I’m excited to say that we are in the highest levels we’ve ever been. We’re now $538 million above the 2009 levels, so we’re going fund over $3 billion in public education so it’s a fantastic start."
The general appropriations bill passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives last Friday and the Oklahoma Senate on Tuesday along party lines.
"This session has been, by far, the most productive session I’ve been involved in. I’ve been here since 2011. This session started off with a bang. It started with government accountability being signed into law very early on, being in this Blue Room with both the speaker and the governor signing the landmark reform that will change the way we govern in Oklahoma for the next century," said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. "We got constitutional carry to governor’s desk very early on. We have historic investments in mental health. We have historic investments, continued investments in education."
Democrats questioned the need for $200 million to be saved, noting several areas of the budget that could have used more funding.
"Fact is, we were asking people in Oklahoma, businesses in Oklahoma to commit more of their money to the state and we told them we would be doing some things to invest in our state with that money," said Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City. "We have rural hospitals that are closing, inner community health centers that are closing, overcrowded schools, overcrowded prisons. While we are making small steps in the right direction on this. We have hundreds of millions of dollars that we could use to make those things better now."
The concern was echoed by Democrats in both chambers.
"We heard this ‘going to be a top 10 state’ over and over again. Well, we cannot be a top 10 state if you’re not putting in the resources that will help us become a top 10 state. Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse services could use more money in dealing with issues that hinder us from being a top 10 state," said Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City. "If we had that kind of extra money to invest, then we wouldn’t have the needs that exist in the state. To create another, in essence, $200 million savings account does not make a whole lot of sense when you have those needs in education."
Supporters of the budget have long stressed the need for savings in the event of an economic downturn or emergency.
"Nobody can foresee the future," said Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. "Take, for instance, what’s going on in the state of Oklahoma right now just with weather, weather patterns in the state. The damage that’s being impacted and inflicted upon our state right now. We will have to answer that soon."
Stitt also signed Senate Bill 1 on Friday, creating the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency.