Committee work wrapped up this week. The Senate will spend the next two weeks working on those House bills that made it out of committee. There were just over 180 but we’ve already acted on some of those in the last week. We have until April 26 to finish this part of the legislative process before we turn our full attention to finalizing the State Budget.
The Senate filed 25 new Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget shell bills Wednesday night, SB1583-1608. These are some of the bills that will be used to implement the FY2019 budget agreement. Shell bills are like place holders and language will be added to them later as budget negotiations continue.
Speaking of the budget, General Revenue Fund collections in March were $405.5 million, $21.4 million or 5.6 percent above the monthly estimate and $53.5 million or 15.2 percent above collections in March 2017. This is continued good news as revenues are steadily climbing. With continued reforms to the budgeting process and these higher revenues, hopefully the legislature will be able to restore funding to our state agencies that have had to bare significant cuts in the last nine years because of historic low oil and gas prices and a struggling national economy. Things are looking up. I’m especially looking forward to see what kind of budget numbers we’ll be working with next session.
I’m pleased that the OEA and school districts have decided to return to the classroom. I’m proud of Oklahoma teachers for letting their voices be heard and participating in the legislative process. This is how a democracy is supposed to work.
There are still some who don’t understand that the funding has been secured but I want to point out that even the OEA came out on Wednesday and acknowledged that the legislature has met 95 percent of its revenue demands. When I was in school, a 95 was an A+ so I think we’ve done extremely well especially considering our state just crawled out of nine years of historic revenue shortfalls and a struggling economy. It will take time to get all of our state agencies back to where they were financially before the recession.
Let’s go over the facts one more time. We approved and the governor signed the largest teacher pay raise in state history. For only the second time in state history, the “fund education first” budget deadline was met and the FY’19 common education budget includes a 19 percent increase (nearly $500 million more) in funding over last year. It’s taken nearly a year and hundreds of ideas to come up with this new revenue but we did it. Besides the hundreds of millions for the teacher pay raises, tens of millions more are headed to our schools for support staff raises, new textbooks and teacher health benefits.
Now it’s time to move on and complete the business of the state by finalizing the state budget. Other agencies (health care, transportation, public safety and mental health agencies) that have also had necessary budget cuts in the last nine years because of the recession and revenue shortfalls need our attention. Some of these agencies have incurred total budget cuts during that time of 20-29 percent while education saw less than a 5 percent cut to its overall budget.
As I mentioned earlier, state revenues are going up so hopefully we can give these other agencies some relief just as we’ve helped the Department of Education. We’re doing our best but just as a family has to cut their budget when money is tight so does the legislature. That’s what we’ve been facing the last nine years. We’re constitutionally-required to balance the budget each year so when state revenue continued to fall, we had to make cuts to balance the budget. Now that revenues are increasing, we’ll be able to put those funds back into the various agencies.
Contact State Sen. Eddie Fields of District 10 at the state Capitol by calling (405) 521-5581 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.