Oklahoma Senate leader details plans to make state budget process more transparent
Oklahoma senators next year will not get their first glimpse of the proposed state budget mere hours or days before they’re expected to vote on the multibillion-dollar spending plan.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, has announced the Senate will take steps to make the budget process more transparent for lawmakers and the general public.
In a first, the Senate will publicly unveil by mid-March its proposed spending plan for the upcoming budget year. The upper chamber will then vote on the budget plan that will include a breakdown of proposed funding for each state agency. That will be the starting point for budget negotiations with the House and the Governor’s Office, Treat said.
“I think it’s going to usher in a new level of transparency,” he said.
Taxpayers win when they know where their tax dollars are going, Treat said.
The Oklahoma Legislature has faced criticism in recent years that the state budget process is secretive because key lawmakers largely craft the massive spending plan behind closed doors.
Typically, lawmakers don’t publicly reveal details of the proposed budget until the final days of the legislative session in May. When the budget is unveiled with just a few days remaining, Democrats and some rank-and-file Republicans have complained that they’re asked to vote on budget bills before they’ve reviewed all the details.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, praised Treat’s proposed changes.
“Oklahomans deserve a clear explanation of where their tax dollars are going and why,” Floyd said in a statement. “This process has been out of the public eye for far too long, and I hope this new approach will enable us to craft a budget that better meets the needs of Oklahomans.”
Floyd Treat said the Senate will also have a more robust and transparent process in which his chamber’s appropriations committee and related subcommittees will vet state agency budget requests and discuss which priorities get funded.
As senators hash out budget details with their House counterparts and representatives from the Governor’s Office, the details of those conversations will be brought up in public Senate Appropriations Committee meetings whenever possible, he said.
Treat, who is in his last year in elected office, said he’s been brainstorming these budget changes for about two years. He said he hopes the Senate will continue to implement the changes even after he is termed out of office.
“I hope that we do it in such a way and aboveboard enough that people in the future will almost be obligated to do it,” he said. “It’s my hope that we prove to them the worth of it, though, and the value, and that this continues on long after I’m out of the building.”
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, previously said he’s open to making the legislative budget process more transparent.
When Stitt called a special session this year on tax cuts, he also urged lawmakers to make their budgeting more transparent, including imposing a requirement that spending bills be made publicly available three days before any votes.
Stitt said he’s glad Treat is taking action to improve budget transparency.
“We have to slow the growth of government and Oklahomans deserve to know how their money is being spent,” Stitt said in a statement. “Legislators need time to review the budget before they vote on it instead of getting it at the 11th hour. I hope we can accomplish that this session.”
Treat said he’s optimistic that the Senate’s new budget process will prevent lawmakers from being surprised by the spending bills filed at the end of the legislative session.