Budget Agreement Highlights

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Despite a $1.2 billion shortfall, legislators managed to balance the budget without raising state income or sales tax rates. The $6.675 billion budget cut agencies by less than we had originally believed would be required. I am particularly proud of avoiding trooper furloughs by holding the Department of Public Safety to a 1 percent cut. We were also able to ensure the survival of the Rural Economic Action Plan, the senior nutrition program, and scheduled road and bridge projects.

Though there will no doubt be some bellyaching from agency heads, I believe lawmakers have spared them from what could have been much deeper cuts. Tough times call for tough decisions. Personally, I believe the larger agencies could have absorbed greater cuts through better management of their resources. My hope is the agencies will learn to be thrifty from this experience and, after the economy recovers, will display sound judgment in their spending. I would even go so far as to press for a zero-based budget. Every agency should have to defend and justify every appropriation request.

A spending-related piece of legislation was signed into law recently. The governor signed the Task Force Accountability Act, a bill that will give task forces and other advisory boards a deadline to show their relevancy or else be eliminated. Oklahoma has more agencies, boards, and commissions than any other state of our size. The bill requires the advisory boards and task forces to conduct at least one meeting or issue a final report within three years of the date that they were created. Once certain task forces are eliminated, the state will save money on member travel and professional services associated with those task forces.

Legislation to modernize the Commissioners of Land Office was also signed into law. House Bill 3026, by House Speaker Chris Benge, puts in place a modern management infrastructure for the land trust, improves accounting practices, and updates or repeals obsolete statutes and rules. The Commissioners of Land Office, also known as the School Land Trust, administers the school land trust funds that provide funding for the support and maintenance of schools. The legislation will go a long way toward ensuring that the money generated through this agency goes where it is intended – to the Oklahoma school children.

During tough times, citizens have to tighten their belt. State government must also make adjustments.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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