House set to hear latest budget plan using cash, cuts to agencies amid budget shortfall

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The house is set to hear the legislature's latest attempt to fix the state's budget shortfall, which would use cash and some cuts to state agencies.

The bill, HB 1019X, narrowly passed the house and senate budget committees Tuesday afternoon, likely setting up a contentious debate on the house floor Wednesday.

"None of this is pretty," said Senate budget committee chairwoman Kim David, R-Porter, who voted in favor of the bill. "None of this is what we wanted."

"We wanted to not have to do this. But the stark reality is we are not able to get revenue passed out of this building," David said, referring to the house, which failed to pass several bills with the constitutionally-required amount of votes on the house floor. "So it comes back to us to be the most prudent where we can be, to take the money and do the least amount of harm."

Under the bill, millions would be used from rainy funds, carryover cash from last year, and revolving fund money. The larger budget package would also include a recently passed house bill which  would raise the gross production tax on older wells.

"If i thought there was still hope at passing a revenue bill, we would still be fighting that fight," said David.

Now in its eighth week of special session, the legislature has been unable to find a funding solution to the $215 million budget shortfall created when the state supreme court ruled a cigarette cessation fee unconstitutional. As a result, the Department of Human Services, Oklahoma Health Care Authority and Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services are facing the brunt of the potential service cuts if funding isn't found.

The bill passed 17-13 in the house committee, with Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, entering the room casting votes in favor of the measure. In the senate meeting, the bill passed 7-5.

It is now scheduled to be heard by the house Wednesday.

There would be no changes to certain agencies, including the Department of Education, Department of Rehabilitation Services and K-12 education.

The Ethics Commission, House of Representatives, Senate, Governor, Lt. governor and Department of Tourism would be among those which would take a 2.5 percent cut. Veterans Affairs would be subject to a 2.7 percent cut.

"Well I can guaran-dang-tee you this plan is nowhere near good enough and I’m not going to vote for it," said Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, during debate. "We can do better than this for our state."

Even if this bill were to be signed into law, DHS, Mental Health Services and the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority would still stand lose between $4-15 million, however Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston insisted it was still better than the alternative.

“Taking no action or voting no today will end up with major, major cuts to those three agencies," said Wallace, who is the house budget committee chairman. "I for one am not willing to do that.”

However, former house budget chairwoman Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, continued to raise concerns about the inability of the legislature to raise revenue, and continue to push through state agency cuts.

"If you vote for this bill and I have no doubt that this bill will pass," she said. "But just know that we are truly at a precipice we can’t come back from."

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