Highlights of Budget Agreement

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

I was fairly pleased with the fiscal year 2013 budget agreement, especially in that it avoids further cuts to core services and even includes some important increases.

The budget includes a significant increase to funding for roads and bridges. Infrastructure funding is critical to economic development, especially in rural Oklahoma. Properly maintained bridges and road improvements to address increased traffic also contribute to public safety.

We approved supplemental funding this year to pay for flexible benefits and National Board Certified Teacher bonuses. The fiscal year 2013 budget also includes funding for the benefits and bonuses. I am pleased we are keeping our commitment to our teachers.

I question the $50 million increase in funding for the Department of Human Services and the need for 240 new employees under the Pinnacle Plan. This agency is already the largest in the state, with a $2.2 billion mix of federal and state funding. I do not think we need 40 new supervisors and believe the new case workers should come from the ranks of existing DHS employees. The Pinnacle Plan, an important reform plan that came out of the DHS lawsuit, will cost $25 million. This leaves an additional $25 million in increased funding that is vaguely worded, such as $17 million for “program maintenance.” I think we could do better, but I do recognize that any one member cannot get everything they want out of a budget that includes input from more than 100 lawmakers and the governor.

We also eliminated several non-essential commissions. In all, the budget will be paid for by the $350 million in additional revenue that is estimated for this upcoming fiscal year. We’ve also passed numerous modernization efforts, including a plan to sell unused state properties to pay for building maintenance and increased energy efficiency. In my mind, this means we will free up additional revenue in the future to take care of core services and also continue to enact responsible tax relief.

I also wanted to mention that my House Bill 3049 has been signed into law. The legislation bans convicted sex offenders from living with minors, with a few exemptions that deal with parents living with their children if those children were not the victims of their crime. This legislation is long overdue and I am relieves to see it signed into law.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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