Written by Dick Pryor on Monday May 9, 2011
Even as Oklahoma's economy continues to bounce back from the recession, state government is facing a revenue shortfall of about half a billion dollars. Lawmakers and Governor Fallin are working behind-the-scenes to craft a balanced budget, but the process is slow and tedious. The deadline for funding education (April 1) has already come and gone and now the best legislators can hope for is to get a budget agreement in place by the end of April.
The budget is the primary focus of this week's program featuring reporters who cover state government on a regular basis: Sean Murphy of the Associated Press, Michael Cross of KOSU Radio, David Meyer of KCCU Radio and John Estus of The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com. Governor Fallin's executive budget called for a 3% budget cut for "core" services, with 5-7% budget cuts for other agencies. However, her budget also reduced the deficit with a bond issue, agency consolidation and consolidation of state information technology systems that she hoped would save about $140 million.
As our guests told us, negotiations are ongoing about those methods of reducing the deficit and the other way to fill in the hole is not gaining traction. That plan would use the so-called 5% money that is money over and above the 95% that can be appropriated each year. The 5% money would be available as early as July 1, and would cut the deficit by as much as one-half. Former state treasurer Scott Meacham estimated the 5% money would total about $245 million to only $226 million. Another funding source being considered is about $1.2 billion in agency "revolving" funds. These are funds dedicated for specific purposes; tapping the revolving funds would be another way to reduce the hole without raising taxes.
Other topics on our agenda were federal dollars for a health insurance exchange program, abortion, gun rights, collective bargaining, and state pension systems. Heading into the final weeks of the session, the bills and votes will be coming fast and furiously, and this week's program sets the table for the main course that will soon be served.
If you have any questions about the legislative session, let us hear from you. We will be talking to legislative leaders in just a couple of weeks to get their take on this year's session.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Sean Murphy, Michael Cross, David Meyer, and John Estus.)
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