Capitol Week In Review: Budget Crisis Leaving Lawmakers At Odds

Friday, March 10th 2017, 6:08 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

This week, state lawmakers passed a bill to give teachers raises without a plan to pay for it, and little was done to bridge the state’s nearly $900-million budget gap.

“There has been no significant revenue streams brought before the Oklahoma House of Representatives in an attempt to fill a nearly $900-million budget hole,” said Representative Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader.

The state House of Representatives passed a bill to give teachers a $6,000 raise over three years. But lawmakers do not have a plan to pay for it.

“It’s hard to vote for something without knowing how we’re going to fund it,” said Representative Forrest Bennett (D) District 92.

“We want to pass a measure because we believe in doing raises, but we are going to play politics with how we’re going to fund things,” agreed Representative Jason Dunnington (D) District 88.

Senate Republicans say their GOP counterparts in the House are falsely raising teachers hopes.

“I think it’s a better path to put things on the table that you can pay for and not just put things on the table,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz.

House Democrats suggested raising the gross production tax on oil and natural gas production. Oil execs say that’s not the answer, but they did lobby lawmakers to allow them to expand drilling.

“So, in Texas and other states where we are active, we are not subject to the same restrictions that we have here in the state of Oklahoma,” said Dave Hager CEO of Devon Energy.

Democrats doubt Republicans will raise taxes on oil and natural gas production.

“It’s because the oil and gas industry is the most powerful industry in the world,” said Inman.

But, Appropriations Chair Leslie Osborn said nothing’s off the table.

“We are looking at everything. We are having discussion with industry groups.  A lot of those discussions go on behind closed doors,” said Osborn.

Due to the budget crisis, state agencies were told to brace for 14.5 percent cuts.

“There won’t be an across the board cut to agencies. We’ll see some agencies that may experience a zero cut. We will see some agencies that will experience a 25 or 30 percent cut again,” said Schulz. 

And the House voted to make changes to a criminal justice reform package voters approved just four months ago, despite opposition from some members like Representative George Young (D) District 99.

“Those individuals clearly voted, knew what they were talking about, why are we trying to reverse that now?” said Young.