By Rep. RICK WEST
The Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate passed a budget bill and sent it to the governor on Friday. The bill is not perfect, but it keeps services for vulnerable Oklahomans intact.
We did not need to take eight weeks to try to find revenue. Nobody expected the revenue bills to pass, but the Legislature spent two months voting on the same revenue bills that it tried and failed to pass last session.
Had we approved the budget bill in September, we could’ve saved thousands of taxpayer dollars and avoided the fear that gripped agencies as we approached the Dec. 1 funding deadline facing some agencies.
As I said, the bill isn’t perfect. The thing I have the most trouble with is robbing the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) fund. The bill raids $30 million from the fund, and I know this will hurt our county commissioners.
We didn’t have to fix our budget like this. I wanted to protect things like the CIRB by using $83 million from carryover cash. The House passed bills to do just that, but the Senate and governor said they wouldn’t approve them.
Instead of fully using that unexpected carryover as a buffer, the Senate and governor thought it was better to take from CIRB and other funds. I disagree, but bills require approval from all three bodies, and the House was overruled.
This bill holds 12 agencies flat (including common education), but it cuts agencies like higher ed and transportation. I know these cuts hurt our career techs and colleges, and I wish I could be delivering better news this week.
Again, it didn’t have to be this way. We did not have to cut agencies just because we didn’t raise revenue. As I have said, the Tobacco Endowment and Settlement Trust has more than $1 billion in it. The Oklahoma Commissioners of the Land Office has more than $2 billion.
The Legislature should seriously look at how these groups are structured. Would it be in the state’s best interest to have more of that money assisting agencies and schools instead of simply sitting in accounts untouched? I believe so.
As a reminder, the Legislature initially entered special session with a $215 million hole to fill. That number jumped to nearly $250 million after the Oklahoma State Department of Health came up $31 million short because of agency leadership’s fiscal mismanagement.
At the end of the day, the budget bill passed by the House and Senate protects taxpayers’ wallets and keeps the ADvantage Waiver Program and other core services intact. It’s not how I wanted to see it done, but it’s done.
We could have passed this in September. We could have lessened cuts had the Senate and governor agreed to use $83 million in carryover cash instead of only $23 million. But it’s better late than never.
I know next session will likely be a doozy. But I promise to continue fighting for agency audits and government reforms. We can’t tax our way to prosperity, but we can – and should – ensure taxpayer dollars are being well spent.
As we enter the holiday season, I want to wish everyone in House District 3 a happy Thanksgiving. I am looking forward to spending this season in our district with my family and constituents. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need anything. Thanks, and God bless.
Rep. Rick West represents House District 3. He can be reached at 405-557-7413 or at [email protected].
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