OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The initial plans for how Oklahoma lawmakers plan to spend billons in Oklahoma taxpayer money is out. Like with most budgets at the State Capitol, this year’s deal comes down to two things: tax cuts and teacher pay.
“It’s a bill that appropriates $9.8 billion,” said Sen. Roger Thompson of Okemah, the head of the Senate Budget Committee on this year’s budget.
Plans were laid out in House and Senate committee meetings on Tuesday for the way Oklahoma could spend close to $10 billion in taxpayer dollars. This year’s budget is 10 percent larger than last year’s, with the state sitting on $1.5 billion dollars in savings.
“So we have a $1.5 billion surplus and we can only find a .5 percent increase for common ed?” said Sen J.J. Dossett of Owasso.
But Republican leadership say that’s not exactly the case. Close to $2 billion dollars more is coming into education budgets thanks to ARPA and CARES Act money for a close to 12 percent increase in overall education funding. That includes a $41 million teacher scholarship program that could give new teachers $25,000 to teach in state.
“We are making sure they don’t have the financial liability to become teachers in this state,” said Thompson.
But Senate Democrats say there needs to be money in the budget for current teacher pay increases.
“I’m really worried about the education budget. Our schools are facing challenges and this is essentially a flat budget for our schools. I worry about the lack of a current teacher pay increase,” said Sen. Julia Kirt.
There will be no state grocery sales tax cut or corporate income tax cuts, but the 1.25 percent car sales tax cut stays and there will be a one-time inflation relief payment of $75 per person.
“We realize that makes a real difference in people’s lives and for others it doesn’t,” said Thompson
“I’m worried about sending $75 checks to every Oklahoman. I just don’t see how that is worth it. I wish it was income based so we could send it to people that need it now,” said Kirt
Legislators set aside $14 million for Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper pay increases.. Thompson said it didn’t influence tax cuts, but the close to $700 million for Project Ocean, the potential Panasonic deal to Pryor, stays in the budget.
“It is set into a savings account. If they do not come, that money just comes right back over to the GR,” said Thompson.
Thompson says State savings could be close to $2 billon by the end of next fiscal year. Republicans say instability in the oil and grain markets warrant caution.
“What does it have to look like for us to start spending this money on people?” said Sen. Kay Floyd of Norman.
There are no mentions of school vouchers in any of these bills.. Over $32.5 million are going to DHS to try to cut the Developmentally Disabled wait list. These bills passed through State House and Senate appropriations committees Tuesday. They will head out onto the floors of both chambers this week.