Some Oklahoma Legislators Push Bill For Increased Transparency

Tuesday, August 22nd 2017, 6:47 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

A handful of legislators are pushing a bill they say will improve budget transparency.

The bill would require agencies that receive $100 million or more from the state to give lawmakers a line-by-line explanation of their expenses. Backers say that will increase transparency. But will it?

"Our culture right now is one of blame. They want to blame us, we want to blame them," said Senator AJ Griffin (R) Guthrie.

You won't find many people who would disagree. In the last days of the session, negotiations broke down and lawmakers passed an 11th hour budget that included at least $200 million in unconstitutional fees. Lawmakers will likely have to return to try to fix the mess with massive cuts.

Now, a handful of lawmakers want to know exactly what they'll be cutting.  

"We need to dig deep,” said Senator Roger Thompson (R) Okemah. “I need to be able to go back into my district and they say, 'Why are we funding education at $2.4 billion. Where's the money go?' And we need to be able to give that answer."

Backers say knowing exactly how agencies will be impacted by cuts will increase transparency. But, whether we will ever know those numbers is up in the air. 

Legislators have exempted themselves from open records and open meetings laws. Most lawmakers are not allowed in private budget talks, and neither is the public or the press. 

"Should the press be allowed in the budget negotiations at the end of the session? I have not even participated in those myself.” Senator Griffin said, “I don't know. I don't know how that would work because I haven't been privy to those conversations."

State Auditor Gary Jones says lawmakers should do away with presenting three different budgets...and work together from the start. 

"There's no reason in my opinion to have three different fiscal staffs looking at numbers because if you have three different sets of numbers at least two of them are wrong." Jones said.