After spending the entire session working toward a balanced budget, we signed on the bottom line Friday and voted on a budget.
At the end of the day, we appropriated $6.9 billion to dozens of state agencies. I am relieved that we were able to keep funding for 15 agencies flat, and some of those departments even saw funding increases. Those agencies are mostly core services of government.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education, for example, will receive a $51 million appropriation from the Rainy Day Fund, bringing its funding 1.6 percent higher than it was last year. All totaled, the agency will receive nearly $2.5 billion from the state’s General Revenue Fund.
The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will receive almost $328 million, which is a 1.7 percent increase over last year’s appropriations. The Health Care Authority will see a 4.2 percent increase over what they received last year, totaling just over $1 billion.
We were also able to hold the Department of Corrections flat, as well as the Department of Transportation. Fortunately, the Legislature was also able to avoid cuts to the Oklahoma Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The Department of Human Services will actually see an 8.2 percent increase, which will go a long way to the people who benefit from the agency’s services. Other departments, like the Election Board, Tax Commission and the Commissioners of the Land Office, were also held flat.
Unfortunately, that means more than 60 agencies saw cuts anywhere between 2 and 5 percent. I am disappointed we were not able to increase funding for the Commission of Children, Youth and Disabilities and for the Department of Career and Technology Education.
This is a far-from-perfect budget. There are many things I would change if it were up to me. One of those changes would be to provide teachers the pay raise they deserve. Our inability to negotiate the pay raise is a huge legislative failure this year; it was our top priority in the House.
I hope we are able to come to a point in the near future where we restructure the budget process going forward. As hard as we tried to roll out a budget earlier in the session, we didn’t finalize anything until the final day. We experienced long days and late nights as we tried to analyze where we were sending $6.9 billion of taxpayer money. Frankly, I believe I needed more time to hear thoughts on the budget from my constituents, but the timing didn’t allow for a robust discussion. Pushing a budget through so quickly flies in the face of the transparency we should demand.
Serving the great people of House District 50 during my first legislative session has been an honor. Many of the more senior representatives and House staff have called this session the “craziest” one they have ever seen. I guess there is no better way to learn than by being thrown into the fire! I am hopeful next year will bring about more experience, more transparency, a better economy and an earlier budget deal. If you need anything over the summer, please don’t hesitate to email me at Marcus.McEntire@okhouse.gov. Thank you, and God bless.