Senate passes budget deal with cuts to nearly every state agency, increase in funding for legislature

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OKLAHOMA - The battle over the budget is brewing at the state capitol.

Wednesday, the Senate passed the $6.8 billion deal but not without heated debate on the floor.

This budget deal was debated on the Senate floor for more than three hours.

Most senators, whether they voted yes or no, said the same thing: this budget isn't perfect.

But, some said it's so far from perfect that we are looking at serious consequences at the several state agencies.

For hours, Senators with very different opinions debated.

"My hope was for an extraordinary financial fix, not 'This is the best we can do,'" said Sen. Mike Mazzei.

"Rich people are taking a hit with the double deduction loophole that we fixed," said Sen. Ralph Shortey.

And, there was plenty of finger pointing.

"I don't know how much more pressure we could have put on the House," said Sen. Clark Jolley.

The budget plan keeps funding basically the same for Pre-K through 12th grade education and the Department of Corrections.

It also gives a little more money to the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority to help cover Medicaid reimbursements.

"In order to maintain the same service array we have in the state, we're going to have to provide additional dollars. This budget does that. The medicaid program was our priority," said Sen. AJ Griffin.

But, opponents easily point out the flaws, like big cuts to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, specifically its drug court, which keeps thousands of non-violent drug offenders out of prison.

"That program is going to have to be cut because of the cuts to the Department of Mental Health. When that happens, those 4,000 people by virtue of rules of the drug court go back to the Department of Corrections so they'll be incarcerated. Incarcerating someone in Oklahoma right now costs about $19,000 a year," said Sen. Kay Floyd.

That's a total of more than $70 million in expenses DOC will have to absorb.

This year's budget doesn't allow for that.

Several senators were willing to go into special session to hash out a new deal but, in the end, it passed 30-16.

Other state agencies facing huge cuts are DHS and higher education.

Meanwhile, the bureau that serves the legislature is looking at a $9 million funding boost.

The House is expected to vote on the budget deal Friday.

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