Budget negotiations continue

by Marcus McEntire

While the Legislature is in the process of hearing numerous bills over the next week, there is another feverish process going on to finalize the state budget. 

House and Senate budget leaders are meeting each week to go over the most current revenue figures and negotiate each chambers’ funding priorities. The race is on because we must pass a balanced state budget before the last Friday in May when we are constitutionally required to sine die.

Education, which gets more than 50% of each year’s budget, is always the first topic on the weekly agenda. This year, we hope to give education more than $100 million additional dollars with the hope schools will be able to meet classroom size limits specified in state statute. Lowering classroom sizes should help students get more individualized instruction, improve academic outcomes and help teachers.

Fortunately, the budget picture looks favorable for funding Medicaid Expansion. I would be singing a different tune if substantial pandemic relief federal monies had not been injected into our health care agencies. Those funds will keep Medicaid afloat for the next two years. Please be aware that the third year of expanded Medicaid will be the true test of our budget because the federal relief money is likely to be depleted by that time.

With all this talk about funding priorities, we also hope to save some money this year as we have in the past. This is a wise decision since none of us knows what might be lurking around the corner.

The good news is we have about $7.9 bill to appropriate this year. This is just slightly more than we appropriated last year. It is pretty miraculous to me the state is in a relatively flat budgetary position considering the uncertainty wrought by COVID-19. 

Writing about the budget this late in session may lead you to think we do not work on it all year, but we do; it is a year-long process. As soon as one state budget is signed, we begin working on the next one. During the interim, House and Senate budget leaders meet with various state agency heads to discuss their future needs. By November, those agencies must deliver to the Legislature their official budget requests for the next fiscal year, which starts the following July.

In February, the governor delivers his budget priorities to the Legislature during the annual State of the State Address. The House and Senate both have funding priorities, as well. This begins the process of negotiating the budget, which occurs throughout the session. Negotiations have been fairly smooth this year and when we complete it, it will be drafted in the form of several appropriations bills that must pass both the House and the Senate before they are delivered to the governor for his final approval.

In the meantime, if I can be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me at marcus.mcentire@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7327.

Comanche Times
United for Oklahoma - April