Oklahoma lawmakers are proposing to give a 184 percent funding hike to an agency that serves them at the same time as they prepare to cut spending on state agencies that serve the public.

Under a budget proposal making its way through the Legislature, funding for the Legislative Service Bureau, which does legislative research and provides computer services for lawmakers and their staffs, would get a $9 million increase, bringing its annual appropriation to $13,892,835.

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement in response to the state budget deal announced by lawmakers:

Lawmakers have not risen to the challenge of a historic budget shortfall. While this budget deal may prevent further cuts to common education and Soonercare, it slashes other vital services like higher education, the Health Department, Public Safety, environmental protection, Veterans Affairs, and the arts. The result is likely to be large tuition increases and fewer course offerings in higher education, shuttered county Health Departments and epidemic prevention efforts, dwindling emergency responders, and even larger gaps in mental health treatment for veterans.

The budget makes these dire cuts even though lawmakers have left hundreds of millions on the table by not stopping a reckless tax cut that was never supposed to happen in these conditions, using far less than the full available 3/8ths of the Rainy Day Fund, failing to increase the cigarette tax, and refusing available federal funds to save rural hospitals. The secretive process and last-minute unveiling of the budget has also already forced schools to lay off teachers and left vulnerable seniors and other Soonercare patients and providers facing months of extreme anxiety.

Lawmakers should show the courage to reject this budget deal and come back with a better plan to address this emergency, even if it requires going into special session.

Our elected officials have made it official! Oklahoma is looking at a $1.3 billion shortfall in public funding. Republican officials blame the shortfall on the cyclical nature of the oil industry, but a review of the numbers says that simply is not true. Responsibility for this disaster rests solidly at the feet of conservative lawmakers. Their constant attacks on state funding mechanisms and state services have led us to this point.

Two revenue failures this year have resulted in a 7% cut from the current budget. State government has certified a $1.3 billion shortfall for the next budget year and will require another 18% cut. The Oklahoma Policy Institute forecasts another billion-dollar shortfall the following year that will require another 20% cut. That adds up to a total reduction of 45% from the state budget over three years.

The budget shortfall has four components: $500 million in one-time funds, $325 million less in individual income tax collections, $229 million reduction in sales tax collections, and a $224 million reduction in gross production taxes. Oil revenue can only account for about 30% of the $1.3 billion shortfall. Responsible budget action could have prevented even that.

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© Wright for Tulsa 2020