Capitol Week In Review: Lawmakers Break Even With Budget Disaster

Thursday, April 13th 2017, 5:41 pm

The state is facing a nearly $900-million budget shortfall, there isn’t enough money to pay school districts monthly support checks or give teachers promised raises, the Rainy Day fund is empty, and the state is borrowing millions of dollars just to pay the day-to-day bills. Still, about half of the legislature took the day off Thursday.

Rev. Lori Walkeof the Mayflower Congregational Church gave the morning prayer in the House of Representatives.

“We pray, oh God, that our elected officials will have the courage to take care of our kids instead of upgrading the executive suites in Chesapeake arena.” 

The State Senate decided to take the day off, and there were a lot of empty seats in the House.

This week, the State Department of Education notified school districts their monthly checks would be cut. For Oklahoma City Public Schools that means losing another $2.1 million.

Still, a senate committee passed a bill to give teachers a $6,000 raise over three years without a way to pay for the raises.

“Putting this out here now is just giving false hope,” said Sen. Mark Allen, R-Majority Whip.

News 9 asked the Senate Pro Tempore Mike Schulz whether he’s optimistic about it teachers getting raises in the fall. 

“I’d say right now not very,” Schulz said.

Ninety-seven school districts statewide have gone to four-day weeks to save money, but a new study shows half of the districts surveyed spend more money now. The Department of Education tells lawmakers this isn’t just about saving money. 

Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Oklahoma City, asked, “This is a recruitment tool to encourage teachers not to leave their district in Oklahoma?”

Carolyn Thompson with the State Department of Education replied, “That’s correct.”

Lawmakers did do away with the wind tax credit early, saving the state millions dollars, but there has been no public movement to increase the tax on oil and gas production.

“We have members of our caucus that support it.  We have members of our caucus that oppose it.” Said Schulz, “I do not think it’s something that would pass our caucus right now.”

Rep. Scott Inman, D-House Minority Leader, said, “They can’t budget appropriately.  They apparently do the basic math to figure out how much they need to bring in, in order to meet their current needs.”

Rev. Walke Mayflower ended her prayer by saying, “We are all pulling for you. And I’ll keep praying for you whether you like it or not. Amen.”