House Approves $7.2 Billion State Budget

Thursday, May 21st 2009, 11:51 pm
By: News 9

Staff and Wire Reports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma House has given final passage to a $7.2 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Thursday's bipartisan 92-7 vote followed almost three hours of questions and debate over the state's general appropriations bill. The measure was approved by the Senate on Wednesday and now goes to Gov. Brad Henry for his signature.

Passage of the budget means the Legislature can adjourn its 2009 regular session in an orderly manner. Lawmakers plan to adjourn on Friday, but some believe the budget was rushed.

"Well we all knew what we were voting on, we were voting on a budget, but to claim they had reasonably discussed it and evaluated it like the public thinks we've done, that didn't happen," said Rep. Mike Reynolds.

House Democrats complained that the budget bill did not fully fund the Oklahoma Military Department or the Department of Public Safety. But lawmakers rejected a plan to use a $5.5 million carry-over fund meant to pay for Capitol renovations to fund them.

Rep. Ken Miller, R-Edmond, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said the budget is the product of a bipartisan agreement between House and Senate leaders and Gov. Brad Henry that protects funding levels for four core areas of state government: education, transportation, public health and public safety.

"The budget I believe is fiscally responsible," Miller said.

The measure was approved by the Senate on Wednesday and now goes to Henry for his signature.

The appropriations measure uses $631 million in federal economic stimulus dollars to increase spending for education and health care, while cutting other agencies by 7 percent overall.

The measure represents a 1.9 percent increase over last year's budget. Without the stimulus money, spending would be $494 million, or 7 percent, below last year's $7 billion appropriation.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the federal Medicaid program, got an increase of $128 million, or 15 percent, thanks to stimulus dollars.

The increase for public schools was $40.5 million, or 1.6 percent, while higher education got an increase of $31.6 million, or 3 percent. The Department of Career Technology Education had about the same budget as last year.

"We have record investment in education," Miller said. "We have record investment in transportation. We have record investment in public health."

The measure also restores an estimated $14.4 million in funds for the Rural Economic Action Plan that was deleted in the original budget agreement between Henry and legislative leaders.

Lawmakers, who have been working through the night have voted on 60 bills Thursday alone compared to the usual 15 on a regular day.