Debate Continues Over $6.1 Billion Budget Proposal - News9.com - Oklahoma City, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports |

Debate Continues Over $6.1 Billion Budget Proposal

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

State agencies and advocacy groups are trying to digest a $7.14 billion budget deal that Governor Fallin says is "fiscally responsible" and "adequately funds core government services."

But, with this budget, there are clearly winners and losers -- mostly losers, considering the size of the shortfall the budget-writers had to overcome: $611 million.

State agencies were told to prepare for cuts, and for most that will be the reality.

Common education, which accounts for the largest portion of the budget pie, however, was kept flat.

State leaders are holding that out as a bright spot and proof that this budget follows the priorities laid out by the Governor at the start of the year.

But others, knowing that the number of students coming into the education system continues to grow, say a flat budget is the same as a cut.

"We still know that in the Fall that's going to mean less classes, larger class sizes," said Amber England, executive director of Stand for Children, an education advocacy group.

England says, if state leaders truly want to improve Oklahoma schools, they need to work with educators to develop an actionable roadmap, and then stick to it.

"We're calling for a long-term solution to this," said England, "not a piecemeal approach, year after year."

House Budget and Appropriations Chair Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, says holding education flat was a huge statement.

"That speaks volumes of what the support is and how we feel about public education," said Rep. Sears.

According to the Governor's office, the budget agreement holds the appropriations for 12 agencies at the same level as the current fiscal year. Eight agencies, including Corrections, will see increased appropriations.

But by far the majority of agencies, 49, will see cuts in their budgets -- as much as 7.25%. In total, the budget proposed for FY 2016 would be $74 less than the current budget.

"It was extremely hard," said Sears, "making those tough choices in regards to who we wanted to give less of a cut, or more of a cut."

To help cover the $611 million shortfall, leadership agreed to take $150 million from the state's Rainy Day fund, $125 million from various agency revolving funds, as well as, money from the uUnclaimed property fund and from cash reserves..

Critics say that this use of one-time funds to balance the budget is extremely unwise.

"[It] will immediately dig another large budget hole for next year," wrote the Oklahoma Policy Institute's David Blatt. "Oklahoma will not be able to kick this can down the road much longer."

Sears acknowledges there could well be another shortfall next year, but he doesn't know how large it would be, and he doesn't feel this budget he helped write has anything to do with it. He strongly defends and is proud of the budget deal.

"Rome was burning down around us," said Sears, "and we put the fire out in this fiscal year -- put it out, knowing full well that a fire may come back next year."

The Legislature was expected to take up budget bills as early as Wednesday evening.

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