Governor battles with legislators over budget deficit bills

Coronavirus

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Amid the pandemic, state lawmakers are grappling with a revenue failure.

They passed bills on Monday allowing the state to dip into the Rainy Day fund.

But the governor says there are problems with that legislation. It looks like cuts to the Digital Transformation Initiative could be a sticking point as the governor and legislators try to fix a huge budget deficit.

“You know we have about a $450 million shortfall from 2020, and it’s my intent to protect core services, but we’re in the middle of negotiations about what how much savings to use; we’re in the middle of those negotiations with the House and Senate,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt.

But on Monday, the Senate and The House overwhelmingly approved three bills that would allow the state to use money from its Rainy Day funds to help fix the budget deficit..

“It is our hope to fully backfill the agencies and not have cuts in fiscal year 20,”said Senate Pro Temp Greg Treat.

But in order for the funds to be used, the State Board of Equalization must declare a budget shortfall. The governor cancelled the meeting yesterday where that was slated to happen. Gov. Stitt is reportedly upset about an amendment to one of those bills that would partially cut funding to his digital transformation initiative as part of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

“When there is just one agency that was singled out to be cut, that was part of our reasoning,” Stitt said.

The governor’s office says that is a $930,00 cut. House members say its just over $250,000.

“What it seems like is that there is a rift between the governor and part of the Republican leadership,” said Rep. Jason Dunnington. The Democrat from Oklahoma City weighed in on why the bills have not been signed by the governor. He says the move by the governor is about control.

“It’s no secret that Gov. Stitt has wanted more power since being elected as governor. He is wanting more power over purse strings, and that’s just not the purview of the governor. The legislature’s job is to guard the revenue. I’m not sure the legislature is ready to give up that piece of power yet, and I don’t think they should,” Dunnington said.

The governor said on Tuesday it’s important that his office pushed for an extra $200 million aside in state saving last year, and he will now look at the entirety of the final quarter of the 2020 budget. Statewide cuts could be a option.

“There’s a lot of things we have to consider. We have the health department; we’re 100 percent focused on making sure we take care of Oklahomans in this COVID 19 crisis. Also, when Oklahomans are struggling, I’m going to protect the taxpayer, and asking state agencies to cut expenses by 1 or 2 percent seems reasonable to me,” Stitt said.

House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat issued the following statements in response to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s announcement that he believes budget cuts are necessary in the current fiscal year:

“The position the Legislature stated by veto-proof majorities Monday is not changing. The Legislature will not authorize cuts to core services during a pandemic response because the public needs its services right now. The state’s reserves, which exist for emergencies just like this, are sufficient for services to continue uninterrupted. The legislative branch controls the power of the purse, and we have made our position clear on behalf of our constituents across the state.”

House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka)

“The Legislature, both Republicans and Democrats by overwhelming margins, took the necessary actions to protect state services from deep budget cuts. In the midst of a catastrophic health emergency, we must prevent budget cuts to public schools, health care, first responders and other core state services. The Legislature is a co-equal branch of government vested with the authority to write the budget. We take that role seriously. I am hopeful that the governor signs all the legislation that was sent to his desk this week.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City)

The governor has five days to sign or veto those bill. Officials say the budget shortfall would kick in and huge cuts would be made April 14 if Rainy Day funds are not accessed.

Continued Coronavirus Coverage

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