Legislative session winds down with budget talks

Sen. Bill Coleman Senate District 10

The end appears to be in sight. We received notice Thursday night, May 9, that we’ll be in session this coming Friday. This is traditionally a sign that we’ve reached the final two weeks of session. The rest of the session, the Legislature only meets Monday through Thursday and then members go home so they can visit with constituents, work on various district projects and attend chamber of commerce meetings and other area events Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Budget negotiations are pretty much done except for one critical item. The House and Senate are still not in agreement on funding for Common Education. The good news, however, is that both sides do agree that more money will be put into Education, and are closing in on just how much.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat announced late May 9 that Senate leadership has found a way to provide an additional $200 million to Common Education. This is significantly more than the previously discussed $120 million in new funding for education.

Whether the $1,200 across-the-board pay raise will be mandated or left up to the local districts is part of the ongoing negotiations. We’ll know more the week of May 13-17.

This is going to be an exciting year for schools regardless of what is decided. Common Education already receives the largest portion of the state budget. Last year, Common Education got a 19% increase to its budget for a total of $2.9 billion, accounting for 38.5% of the total state budget. The next highest agency appropriation went to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority at only 15%.

Education is our state’s priority. This year, Common Education will be getting another historic funding boost receiving an even larger share of the state budget.

Again, the Senate believes extra funding should go to the classroom and allow local school districts to decide how to spend the extra money. The House wants an across-the-board pay raise of $1,200 per year per teacher on top of the average $6,000 pay raise that all teachers received last year. The Senate had offered a compromise that would give only those teachers in the districts that pay the minimum on the salary schedule a $1,200 pay raise instead of every teacher.

The raises are the sticking point for finalizing the budget but hopefully it’ll all be worked out this coming week, and with the additional funding I feel confident we can all come to an agreement. I’m very thankful that the issue holding up the budget is to how spend more money instead of where to cut spending. This is a great “problem” to have.

As for my legislation, HB 1341 has been assigned to a conference committee. We agreed on a conference committee report and submitted it for final consideration by both chambers. It will be taken up first by the House and then the Senate. If both approve it, it’ll go to the governor. If it doesn’t receive approval in either chamber, it cannot move forward in the process.

On Monday, I carried the nomination of Dr. April Waller of Skiatook to the State Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. Her nomination was approved unanimously in committee and then also by the full Senate on Wednesday. I want to thank Dr. Waller for agreeing to serve the State of Oklahoma.

This week, I also met with Gary Pierson who is a candidate for the OU Board of Regents. It’s refreshing to see all senators engaging more in the nomination process this year.

There have been so many activities and visitors at the Capitol in the last few weeks. Ponca City Day was celebrated in the 4th Floor Rotunda on Tuesday. It’s always great to see folks from home getting to show off some of the great attractions our city has to offer. We want to thank Head Country for graciously giving all of the legislators and their assistants a bottle of their delicious barbeque sauce.

You can contact me at the state Capitol by calling 405 521-5581 or by email atbill.coleman@oksenate.gov.