By Rep. RICK WEST
Growing up, I learned that your word is your bond and a handshake is as good as a signed contract.
I’ve said all along that lawmakers should regain control of off-the-top money in our state budget. We only currently appropriate a small fraction of the total dollars that come into Oklahoma, and it ties our hands and prevents us from fully evaluating budgetary needs each year.
But until we get to the point of limiting that off-the-top money, we are stuck doing what we can with what we have.
Lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin had agreed to an appropriations plan for the first special session. House members were under the impression that we could ensure funding for health care agencies by using money from the Rainy Day Fund, carryover cash from Fiscal Year 2017 and money from certain revolving funds.
We also planned to cut some state agency budgets by roughly two percent to lessen the blow to those health care agencies. This plan was not perfect, but it was one that provided limited cuts across the board. House members passed the bill. So did senators.
Gov. Fallin, however, opted to line-item veto much of the appropriations bill. When she did so, Fallin severely worsened cuts to the Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuses Services and the Department of Human Services.
In the original bill, these three agencies would have cuts totaling about $22 million. Not ideal, but not totally crippling the agencies. The Health Care Authority said it could avoid provider rate cuts with a $15 million reduction, as outlined in the bill passed by the House and Senate.
Fallin’s veto means the health care agencies will suffer cuts totaling nearly $100 million. She eliminated portions of the bill, like a two percent cut for agencies, which were designed to help cover these three agencies.
Now, the Health Care Authority is dealing with a $42.5 million reduction instead of $15 million. Human Services has to figure out how to function with $37.8 million less – instead of $4 million. And Mental Health is receiving a $19.4 million cut instead of a $3.6 million cut.
These cuts mean the Health Care Authority voted to cut provider rates, including those for our nursing homes. That didn’t have to be the case, but Fallin’s veto had far-reaching consequences.
The governor announced last week she plans to call lawmakers back for a second special session one week before Christmas. As I write this, I don’t know what the plan is – or who is leading these negotiations, but I’ll continue to update you with the best knowledge I have.
I sometimes feel like a broken record when I say this, but the economy is rebounding. November sales tax revenues were strong for Oklahoma. In fact, they were more than 12 percent higher than November 2016.
Our economy is on the rise, and the last thing we need to do is increase taxes and make people hesitant to go out and help our economy. Let’s not create permanent tax increases on everyday Oklahomans because of a temporary problem.
As you know, I’m around and happy to help. Get in touch at [email protected] or 405-557-7413. Thanks, and God bless.
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