By Rep. Mike Sanders
It’s the time of year when we hear a lot about the state budget. Here’s a brief review of the process.
House leadership starts looking at the state budget for the next fiscal year in about October when we start seeing state agency preliminary requests. This year, in January, we added public budget hearings with the five state agencies that receive almost 80 percent of the state appropriated budget.
Once session starts, the speaker forms the House appropriations & budget subcommittees, broken up into education, general government, health, human services, judiciary, national resources and regulatory service, public safety, transportation and other areas. This year, these subcommittees met with various state agencies to do a deeper dive into their budgets. Each member was asked to rotate through the various committees to get a better look at the state’s overall budget.
The House Appropriations & Budget Committee and the Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget, made up of House and Senate members, also have met multiple times, approving a number of bills that are now starting to move through the House and to the Senate.
The first of those measures passed the House last week.
House Bill 2343 removes red tape, making it easier to collect back sales taxes from businesses that are late on their tax payments. House Bill 2344 reduces the cap on film tax rebates from $5 million to $4 million annually. House Bill 2350 eliminates the sales tax exemption for certain sporting events, like tickets to the Oklahoma City Thunder games. Combined, these three measures are expected to generate about $20 million and are a step towards helping close the budget gap.
These are examples of bills that require 51 votes in the House to pass: bills that raise certain fees or end tax exemptions, deductions and credits. Bills that will raise taxes require two-thirds, or 76 votes in the House, to pass. Raising taxes is harder, as it should be.
Here’s a look at the budget breakdown. About 60 percent of the money in the overall state budget comes off the top, mainly for transportation and education; about 40 percent gets appropriated at the Legislature’s discretion. We’re working to move more money from the off-the-top category to the appropriated category to give the Legislature greater flexibility to better meet changing needs each year. But, there’s a reason that money was set aside in the first place, to protect things like transportation.
We hear a lot about education funding, but common and higher education and CareerTech gets about 52 percent of the appropriated budget. We have to fund the rest of government – more than 60 state agencies – with the remainder. Transportation as a whole only gets about 9 percent of the budget.
We’re working to craft a state budget this year that will adequately fund core government services but that will continue to force state agencies to spend conservatively and eliminate all waste. The taxpayer should get the greatest discretion of how their money is spent.
We are on track to have a balanced budget before session ends in May. I will keep you posted on our progress.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.