State lawmakers are halfway into the legislative session and the Governor says they’re nowhere near a budget agreement; the state’s rainy day fund is tapped; and as of tomorrow, lawmakers will be law breakers.
“We’re half way through the legislative session and we need to get down to business. It’s time,” Gov. Mary Fallin said, urging the legislature to begin focusing on the state’s budget woes. “We’ve had minimal discussions on the state budget. You’ve seen basically nothing passed at this point in time, as far as investing in core services and revenue enhancements for our state.”
The situation is so dire, State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger tapped the rainy day fund this week, borrowing $240-million just to pay the bills. Legally, Doerflinger can do it, but he didn’t tell the legislature.
“Listen, what’s concerning to me is that the legislature was not notified that those funds were going to be accessed by the executive branch. So, we had no knowledge of that in the legislature,” said House Speaker Charles McCall.
Doerflinger stands by his decision.
“We believe confidently. We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t believe that was a fund that I could access,” Doerflinger said.
The legislature will not make an April 1 deadline to fund education, breaking a law that it has been breaking for more than a decade.
“Educators know that the scenarios that we’re under,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz. “We’ve done some things in the past that free them up a little bit where they can make some decisions later in the year rather than now.”
Legislative leaders say they just don’t have enough information to know how education spending will be impacted. The House of Representatives doesn’t anticipate cuts to education.
“I expect that common education funding for public schools will be protected,” McCall said.
But senate leadership says small cuts are likely.
“When they consume nearly a third of the appropriated dollars, it’s very difficult to hold them harmless and not eliminate the rest of state government,” Schulz said.
A senate committee did roll back tax breaks for wind energy, but the roughly $50-million in savings won’t help this budget.
“The state of Oklahoma is in a financial crisis. Cuts to our public schools and our hospitals and health care providers have devastated the state of Oklahoma,” said House Minority Leader Scott Inman.
Fallin said it’s time for the legislature to roll up its sleeves.
“We’ve got about eight weeks or so to go in the legislative session. It’s time to really start making some decisions.”