The House on Friday passed a $6.9 billion appropriation’s budget.
After many long nights away from my family and long hours out in the district listening to constituent concerns and agency hopes, this seems like nothing short of a miracle.
This was a challenging year. We started budget work in earnest last fall, and in January heard from the five agencies that receive almost 80 percent of state appropriated dollars. Next, we asked all of our appropriations subcommittee chairs to dive deeply into agency budgets to see where efficiencies could still be found. Each committee member rotated through the various subcommittees to get a better overall look at the state budget.
We knew coming into session we had an $878 million hole to fill. This is the amount we were short for fiscal year 2018 to match what we appropriated in FY17. There were plenty of ideas for how to fill this hole, but getting consensus among the 73 Republican members of the House and 26 Democrats, including 32 freshmen members, then getting approval from the state Senate and the signature of the governor proved near impossible. But, we did it; we made it happen. We were able to pull together $578-plus million dollars of recurring revenue for future years.
The budget we passed not only fills this year’s budget hole, it holds 15 core agencies flat – meaning they receive almost identical funding to last year. This includes common education, public safety, the Health Care Authority, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services and mental health.
This means, our schools get a 1.6 percent increase over last year’s funding, including $18 million to backfill mid-year cuts. Plus, we fully funded flexible benefit allowances for teachers. What we couldn’t do was pass a teacher pay raise. House Republicans voted three times this session to give teachers a $6,000 raise over the next three years, but this failed to get Democrat or Senate support. House leadership and House Republicans are 100 percent committed to this teacher pay raise next year. We will not stop until this is achieved.
On another note, though, we have funding to secure all of the health care federal matching dollars to continue services in our rural nursing homes and hospitals. Children in foster care will continue to be served. Our regional juvenile detention centers will continue to operate. Public safety services will continue.
Other agencies on average received a 4.2 percent cut, much better than the 15 percent cut feared earlier in the session. All of these accomplishments seemed impossible just four months ago.
Agencies taking a slight cut include the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. A $100 million cut came from the Roads Fund and $50 million from the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Plan, but this was an amount the department assured us would still allow the 8-year plan to remain intact.
As I believe you will remember, our roads and bridges were decimated before Republicans won majority control of the House in 2005. More than 3,000 bridges were structurally deficient; within the next year that number will be down to zero.
I want to thank transportation for always being willing to help in tight budget times. In addition to the funding the department gave up to general revenue this year, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority came to the table with a $5 million check to fully fund an Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Academy in early 2018. These are outstanding examples of partnership.
I will give further details of this year’s session and the state budget in next week’s column. Until then, as always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.