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House, Senate Committees Pass Special Session "Cash and Cuts" Plan

Matt Trotter

Working in fits and starts Tuesday, Oklahoma House and Senate budget committees passed a plan to mitigate a $215 million budget hole by using one-time funds and making nearly across-the-board cuts to state agencies.

House Bill 1019 mitigates steep cuts facing health and social service agencies by cutting most agency budgets 2.44 percent. Some are cut less, and few are held harmless. Rainy day, carryover and agency revolving funds will be tapped for a total of roughly $106 million.

HB1019 also includes a $30 million supplemental appropriation for the state health department requested by Interim Director Preston Doerflinger.

Rep. Leslie Osborn said most agency budgets have been cut 45 percent over the past decade, and the state is now at a precipice it may not come back from.

"Where jobs will not stay because there will be no quality of life. Where we are 50th in teacher pay, 50th in educational outcomes, 50th in health care outcomes. At what point do we band together and say, 'Enough'?" Osborn said.

Osborn, a Republican and last year’s budget chair, blamed far-right members of her party for failed votes on special session revenue packages.

HB1019 was taken up by the House budget committee Tuesday morning. The hearing on the bill was postponed when the full House met, and the bill was tweaked ahead of a 3 p.m. budget committee meeting that was ultimately pushed back to 3:30 p.m. The House budget committee passed HB1019 17–13.

The Senate budget committee passed the bill 7–5 about an hour later. The full House and Senate could take up the measure as early as Wednesday.

In order for cuts to stay around 2.4 percent for most agencies, the Senate needs to approve a gross production tax increase on existing wells to bring in roughly $48 million this year. House Budget Chair Kevin Wallace said that will help with next year’s anticipated $400 million to $500 million budget hole.

"That, actually, will have an impact of about $100 million next year, so that helps us with that debt, deficit that we’re starting with," Wallace said. "Also, the economy’s improving. I can’t tell you how much. I do believe we’ll come in above the estimate for FY18."

Regular session bills will start being filed in a few weeks, and there will likely be several that try to tackle another looming budget shortfall.

"I would assume there would probably be some tax measures, some revenue measures that are filed. We’re going to have to work through that process and perhaps pass one of those if possible," Wallace said. "If not, then we’re going to look at efficiencies and there’ll have to be some reforms, perhaps income tax reform, to help generate revenue."