This week, the Legislature met in floor session for the first time since early April. We paused our regular meetings at the Capitol to help slow community spread of COVID-19 and reduce the likelihood of exposure to the hundreds of people working in the Capitol.
Despite not being at the Capitol during the last month, however, we have continued to work from our home for our constituents, and one issue that my colleagues and I tackled was our state budget.
The only constitutionally required duty of the Legislature is to pass a balanced budget every year by the last Friday in May. While it’s always a challenge to decide how to spend taxpayer dollars most efficiently, this year’s unique economic situation presented a new set of concerns.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant decline in the price of oil, we expectedly found ourselves facing a budget hole. Initially, the Governor projected a 7.5% cut would be necessary. However, as our economic situation begins to improve and the state slowly reopens nonessential businesses, our final budget proposal reduces most agencies’ operating costs by 4% or less.
The total appropriated budget in SB 1922 is $7.7 billion, which is $237.8 million, or 3%, less than the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.
When considering the budget, it was clear how important it is to protect the investments the Legislature has made into common education over the last several years. The additional relief funds from the federal government means that common education would receive no reduction in next year’s budget. Oklahoma’s $160 million in COVID-19 relief money for common education fully offsets the temporary state funding reduction of $78.2 million to common education. There is also an additional $40 million that the Governor has to allocate to education as he sees fit. The recent teacher pay raises will also not be impacted under this budget.
The concern I have is many of the schools in House District 51 receive a portion of their funding through local oil and gas revenue taxes, which has had a significant decline. So even though these schools may receive flat funding from the state, which is a good thing in this tough budget year, they may still have to reduce their local school district budgets to offset the loss of local oil and gas revenue that they’ve been accustomed to receiving over the past few years.
Oklahoma has received $1.5 billion in federal relief funds to cover COVID-19 expenses, which far exceeds the $237.8 million spending reduction in the budget proposal. Since the virus is the cause of the sudden hit on our economy and the forced reduction of our budget, federal relief funds should help stabilize our state spending further. State leaders requested more state flexibility with these funds from Congress and President Trump.
We are not the only state facing these kinds of cuts. With state economies affected by the virus across the nation, nearly every state government is expecting a major decline in revenue, and several are already cutting services. Thanks to efforts last year to secure additional money in our Rainy Day Fund, we had the savings to plug the budget hole facing agencies for the remainder of this fiscal year.
All things considered, we’re lucky that harsh cuts to state agencies weren’t necessary. The House passed the budget bill on Thursday by a 77-23 vote. The Senate had previously passed the bill on Tuesday by a 36-11 vote, so it now goes to Gov. Kevin Stitt to be considered.
If you’re continuing to experience problems filing unemployment benefits, please reach out to my office and I will assist as much as possible. Also feel free to reach out to my office with any questions or concerns that you may have regarding upcoming legislation being considered or just anything in general that I can assist you with at the state level.
Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns that you may have. Thank you for allowing me to represent you and District 51 at the State Capitol.
Happy Mother’s Day weekend to all the mothers out there and especially to these two important incredible mothers in my life who I love and respect.