by State Representative Kevin Wallace
Oklahoma House District 32
After months of work and rework, the House this past week passed the general appropriation’s bill for Fiscal Year 2021. The measure also was approved by the Senate and awaits the governor’s action.
This $7.7 billion budget is $237.8 million, or 3%, less than the FY20 budget, which was the largest in state history. It is much improved from estimates by the governor and the state Board of Equalization that showed we had $1.4 billion, or 17%, less to work with than the amount initially certified in February as a result of the economic effects of COVID-19 and the global trade war over oil and gas.
By using state reserve funds, cutting some one-time expenses, utilizing apportionment reforms and allowing transportation and conservation dam bonds, we were able to keep cuts to core services to 4% or less in most instances and to 2.5% for public schools.
Based on input from Oklahomans, we prioritized public schools in this budget, cutting $78.2 million from common education’s $3 billion appropriation. With the use of federal relief funds of $200 million, however, public schools will actually receive more this year than last, though they will need to code for COVID-related expenses to maximize the relief funds.
This budget makes use of several measures that allowed us to move money from areas of lesser need to areas of higher need for this year. We moved some money from transportation to education, for instance, but offset that by allowing for transportation bonds. We also redirected money from pension apportionments to education, which we will replace and increase when the state’s revenue picture improves. In the past few years the Legislature has appropriated money above and beyond employee and employer contributions to our state pension plans to help improve the funds’ fiscal solvency. We are still sending $200 million to the plans this year; that is just less than what we normally send. We are not touching the corpus of the funds, and the benefits will be unchanged unless the Senate passes the COLA increase we sent them.
This budget is fiscally responsible in a year of unprecedented change. It keeps cuts to state services to a minimum, and in some cases only asks state agencies to temporarily forgo one-time expenses. It is possible that the revenue estimates we were provided were excessive. In any case, we are hopeful our economy will quickly recover and many of these cuts can be made whole at mid-year.
Kevin Wallace serves District 32 of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and chairs the State House Appropriations Committee. He can be reached by phone at (405) 557-7368 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.