Today, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 52 to 45 to pass Senate Bill 1616, commonly known as the Budget Bill.
The appropriations in the bill cover $969.3 million of the $1.3 billion budget. Because the Oklahoma Constitution requires a balanced budget, state agencies must swallow about $360 million in cuts.
House Republicans spent much of the debate on the bill stating that House Democrats blocked measures, such as a cigarette tax, that would have raised revenues. Democratic Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) rebutted this argument stating that Democrats supported $250 million in increased revenues by eliminating or limiting some tax credits and exemptions.
The budget has drawn many critics who say that it cuts vital services in the social safety net and public education. Higher education received a 16% cut that many believe will result in drastic tuition hikes.
“I do believe there will be some substantial raises in tuition,” said House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville). Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) stated that higher ed took a cut because Oklahoma colleges and universities have low tuition. KOSU reports that Jolley said, “There is a thought that tuition increase could defer because we are relatively low on tuition in Oklahoma.”
Local representative Mike Shelton released a statement in which he said, “This budget will absolutely cause devastation to our education system. Our local schools are already pinching pennies to pay teachers, and provide textbooks and keep their buses on the road, and this budget only makes the problem worse. Our colleges and universities will be forced to raise tuition to a point that makes it where the average Oklahoman cannot afford to get a college degree. Our universities will be forced to cut scholarships and programs. How can we improve our economy and encourage new businesses to relocate to Oklahoma if we are unwilling to invest in education. We need an educated workforce in order to have a prosperous Oklahoma, and this budget is putting us behind. I simply cannot support a budget that does not support education.”
Former representative and gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman, who has been active and outspoken regarding his concern about this budget, said, “The budget bill passed 52 – 45 with 4 members absent. The combined Democrats and Republicans voting in opposition were unable to stop the bill from passing so as to write a better budget proposal. I am sad about what harm we will see come to many Oklahomans who will suffer as a result of this legislation. The inaction of the legislators to make the tough decisions needed will be devastating for most schools, state services and Oklahomans of all demographics.”
Leader Inman could not be reached for comment.
Two candidates for House of Representatives have replied with comments.
Roger Ford, Republican, is running for House District 95: “As every Oklahoman has done over the last few months we have watched, discussed and complained about this legislative session. There has been enormous amounts of information spread, not all accurate. Plain and simple, both parties have got to start working together. We are destroying our state by playing political games. I have heard numerous times since announcing my candidacy, “it’s just politics”. Well I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s time to have more individuals who think as a human being and not a politician, making decisions for our families. I’m currently working my way through the budget, so I can see details for myself and not just news highlights to go from. As a long-time general manager and business owner, I have worked with budgets. You always budget your needs first and in Oklahoma that is our education and healthcare. Any wants the state may have are put aside when the revenue is not there. I’m waiting to see what ramifications the budget will have on Mid-Del Schools and Rose State College. My wife and I are very involved with both entities and I have confidence that Dr. Cobb and Dr. Webb will do their best to make hard decisions for the next fiscal year. As a parent of a child in Mid-Del Public Schools, I’m not thrilled that they will be cutting programs, but what I am happy about is I know without a doubt that we have a strong group of teachers and staff that will do their best to provide for our children. As a current, long-time teacher recently told me, “No matter what decisions come out of the Capitol, I’m going to continue to love and educate our children.” Those are the people that I’m excited to be a voice for. My wife says I couldn’t have picked a worse year to run. I disagree with her. This is the best year for me. Anyone can come in and do their time when the going is good. True leaders step up and put the work in to make something good come out of a bad situation.”
Jeff Ferguson, Democrat, is running for House District 101: “The more I look and dig (the more I learn) about what this House, Senate and Governor have done to our state over the last few years, the more it sickens me. From the poor planning of the oil and gas boom (then bust) to the continued refusal to responsibly tax vertical well production. As Oklahomans we know how to live with the ups and downs. Why don’t the elected officials know that also? They did the equivalent of buying a jacked up 3/4 ton truck at 21% interest. And when the bust happened, blamed everyone else for their bad decisions.
I worked in the oil and gas industry, and the salary was great. You didn’t see me, however, buying a mansion or some expensive sports car.
Stop taking from the working class by downgrading an already broken school system, by cutting an already struggling healthcare system, by hurting an already financially tight family. I’ve seen many cuts to the hard working Oklahoma people, but not one to the greedy people and companies that created the financial monster we are stuck dealing with. Oklahoma elected Republicans, it’s time to stand up and take the blame. You were not as conservative as you lead your voters to believe. You did not prepare for the future. You did not live the Oklahoma standard. I, for one, am sick of it and am campaigning hard to make sure my family and all other Oklahomans will be protected from this kind of irresponsible and harmful legislative action.“