The state is one step closer to bridging a $215 million budget gap.
The State House of Representatives passed a bill today that would take money from several state funds, make targeted cuts, and raise the tax on oil and natural gas production. It does not include raises for teachers and state workers.
“I gotta tell you. I feel a bit duped. I feel a bit taken for a ride,” said Representative Forrest Bennett (D) District 92.
Lawmakers aren’t happy. Last week they were told they had to pass the largest tax increase in state history, or services for thousands of Oklahomans would be cut. Now they’re being told the state had the money to fund services all along.
“And low and behold, we had another plan at the ready,” Bennett said.
That plan uses $60 million in revolving funds. Those are funds that go into agencies throughout the year. It taps carryover cash to the tune of $46 million, and raises the tax on oil and gas production on older wells, drawing an additional $48 million.
Then there are the cuts. $59 million spread out through most agencies.
“I was not aware that we would be cutting Department of Veterans Affairs more than we are cutting the senate or the house or the governor. Were you aware that that was going to be something that was going to be happening long before today?” Representative Shane Stone (D) District 89 asked Representative Kevin Wallace (R) Appropriations Chair. Wallace replied, “The exact details, no. Was I aware that we have a gap that we have to fill? Yes.”
Opponents say cutting services is bad for the state.
“We played games last week with the orchestrated vote on a bill that would have helped the state of Oklahoma move forward without cuts. I’m disgusted by that,” said Representative Matt Meredith (D) District 4.
Representative Cory Williams (D) District 34 added, “For the state of Oklahoma I can’t imagine a worse PR firm than the legislature. How in the world are we going to tell the amazon’s of the world or other companies of the world to come here and invest when we won’t even invest in ourselves.”
The Senate will take up the bill Friday. If it passes it could be on the governor’s desk by the end of this week.