On Thursday, the governor and legislative leaders announced an agreement for the composition of the state’s next budget. Capitol insiders are hard pressed to recall a time when these groups reached a budget agreement this early in the year.
In fact, this agreement brings to a close the last big decision of this legislative year and sets the stage for the Legislature to adjourn days ahead of schedule. All Oklahomans should know it is a good day when the Legislature goes home early.
Once a vote is taken on the proposed budget, the budget agreement will join tax reduction, transformational workers’ compensation reform and funding real property infrastructure needs without issuing debt as the last of the key votes that had to be held prior to the closure of this year’s session.
This presents a stark contrast to last year when many were disillusioned after very public disagreements between legislative chambers kept the Legislature from enacting tax reduction. Gone are the days when the House and the Senate would hold dueling press conferences where they blamed each other for the lack of progress.
It appears that this year will not end with a flurry of legislation coming out of conference committee with new last-minute proposals. Constituents may recall how just a few years ago legislators were forced to vote on huge bills with little prior notice. It does not appear as though this will be the case this time. I believe there will be less than 100 bills assigned to conference committee, meaning that the session could wind down without the all-night sessions that have marked the conclusion of past years.
This progress may be attributed to the composite of current legislative leadership. I have a tremendous appreciation for those who are representing the House of Representatives in key leadership positions. These legislators are responsible for negotiating with other state government policy officials. Our leadership teams contain individuals of sound judgment who are unlikely to have knee-jerk reactions based on small misunderstandings with those whom they negotiate. This prevents small issues and problems from growing into large ones. I was disappointed last year when leaders resorted to press conferences to cast blame, when common-sense problem solving could have avoided the entire disagreement.
I don’t think I am speaking too soon when I say this has by far been the best managed legislative session that I have witnessed since taking office in 2006.
Much has been written about the budget agreement during the past few days. It is always difficult on those of us who are small government fiscal conservatives to come to grips with the new and additional government spending that takes place in years like this one when state government has a lot of new revenue to spend. When combined with supplemental funding the new spending will be in the area of $300 million . It is hard for me to vote for these increases when the foremost focus of my work in the Legislature has been to reduce spending. Time and time again I have witnessed the absurd inefficiencies and wasteful spending practices within state government and I know this new injection of money will enable some of these to continue.
The budget’s saving grace is the fact that it meets deferred real property infrastructure needs without issuing debt. About a third of the new spending has been allocated for this purpose.
Out-of-power politicians are emphasizing the fact that the budget does not contain across-the-board pay raises for certain state employees. This should be seen for what it is, pure hyperbole. Over the past years not only have many employees received pay raises but also tax-free health insurance benefits have become so rich that many employees are receiving significant cash in excess of the benefit. Even though it isn’t in the budget, the Legislature is in negotiating with state employees to potentially approve an omnibus compensation package that will account for all state employees’ compensation and award raises to those who perform well while also potentially adjusting benefits to reflect reality. I expect we will vote on this proposal within just days.
Please don’t hesitate to send my your views on the proposed new budget.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at email@example.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/JasonMurphey and Twitter.com/JWMurphey.