Bipartisan $7.7 million budget approved

Sen. Bill Coleman District 10, Oklahoma Senate

Last week was extremely productive at the Oklahoma Capitol. A bipartisan $7.7 billion budget agreement was announced Monday, was quickly approved by both chambers and on the governor’s desk by the end of the week. This gave him five days to sign it (excluding Sunday).

The Legislature is constitutionally mandated to pass a balanced budget, meaning we can only spend the amount of revenue certified by the State Board of Equalization. They meet multiple times a year to assess the state’s economy and revenue trends. They adjusted their initial December certification in February and found we had around $85 million less to spend on the FY’21 budget. Then last month they found that we’d have close to $1.4 billion less to spend, as the health pandemic and low oil and gas prices continued to hurt the state’s economy.

Although the Legislature hasn’t been provided specific details, the state has received more than $1.25 billion in federal relief funds to address COVID-19 expenses incurred by state agencies, communities and the tribes, which will help the state tremendously.

There have been some scary numbers thrown out in recent weeks regarding agency cuts, but we have worked day and night to find every last penny to protect core state services. The highest agency cut will be around four percent. However, while we’ve been extremely concerned about state revenues, we believe things will be improving in the coming months and revenues will increase. If this happens, we can go back in February and provide supplemental appropriations to help restore some of those cuts.

Overall, the budget is only three percent, or just under $238 million, less than the current year’s budget. The FY’20 budget was the largest in state history and next year’s will be one of the highest. We should be good once everyone gets back to work and life gets back to normal.

Our main concern was the budget for common education. We’ve worked so hard providing historic funding to Oklahoma schools and classrooms in recent years. The budget includes a temporary reduction of just over $78 million, or 2.5%, for common education. But schools are projected to end up with more funding given that the Department of Education has received $200 million in federal relief money, which fully offsets the temporary state funding reduction. The teacher pay raises won’t be impacted by the reduction, and neither should per pupil funding.

Together, common and higher education along with career technology receive half of the state budget with the more than 60 other state agencies (like public safety, corrections, roads and human services) receiving the remainder of funds. Higher ed and career tech will also see temporary state reductions that will be offset by the federal relief funds.

Gov. Kevin Stitt can further help shore up agency budgets since he has control over how the federal relief funds are utilized and controls spending for those agencies under his direct authority.

Considering all our state has been through, I want to congratulate our Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson and Vice Chair Dave Rader, House Appropriations Chair Kevin Wallace and Vice Chair Kyle Hilbert as well as the chairs of the appropriations subcommittees for all of their hard work on crafting this budget.

Besides budget work, the Legislature also approved several executive nominations and numerous critical bills that must get to the governor’s desk before adjournment.

This week, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat appointed me to the Health Care Workforce Resources Board. This hasn’t been an active board but given the historic needs of our health care workforce during this pandemic, we need to ensure these Oklahoma heroes are taken care of and see what we can do to increase their numbers statewide.

In recognition of National Teacher and Nurse Appreciation Days, I want to once again say thank you to all these incredible individuals. Thank you to all our educators and support staff who have kept the learning process going, fed thousands of kids and have kept our school buildings clean and running. To all health care workers, your bravery and willingness to put others’ health and safety above your own is beyond commendable. Your talents and sacrifice will never be forgotten!

If I can be of any assistance, you can contact me by calling (405) 521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.