Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Root of Budget Troubles Found in State Question

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Root of Budget Troubles Found in State Question

Article excerpt

Legislative leaders are beginning to set the pieces of the state budget picture in place. They say many Oklahomans are going to be upset when they see the finished product.

Many of them say it will be the peoples' fault because the people voted for State Question 640.

"Most Oklahomans don't have any idea what they did," said Rep. Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "They may begin to realize it when they see what we had to cut out."

But Dan Brown, the father of State Question 640, said the constitutional amendment "created the environment for them (legislators) to do the right thing, and that is to deal with existing revenues."

Brown also said the legislators brought the current money problems on themselves by "passing unaffordable legislation, House Bill 1017," the school reform and funding measure approved in 1990.

State figures show that the revenue-raising measures enacted by House Bill 1017 brought in $704.4 million through this current fiscal year, while total appropriations for the bill's purposes came to $948.3 million.

Estimated revenues for House Bill 1017 in the fiscal year beginning July 1 are $250.5 million while total costs, if 1017 is fully funded, would be $537.8 million.

Oklahomans gave lopsided passage in the spring of 1992 to State Question 640, which requires a vote of the people on any revenue-raising measure not passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses. Senate President Pro Tem Bob Cullison, D-Skiatook, said the new constitutional amendment makes it impossible to raise taxes in the future.

A dreary economy gave legislators $160 million less to appropriate this year than last. Gov. David Walters has proposed cuts of approximately 9 percent for every state agency, but some legislative leaders say that can't be done.

"How are you going to cut 9 percent at the Department of Corrections?" asks Rep. Jim Hamilton, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "Are you going to let 9 percent of the prisoners loose?"

Hamilton, D-Poteau, and others are working on a budget process that will cut some agencies more than others. But they all agree that by the time they're finished, some serious cuts will have been made at a large number of state agencies.

"We really don't have any alternative," said House Speaker Glen Johnson, D-Okemah. "We have $160 million less to spend, and we have a balanced budget amendment. All we can do is cut the state agencies."

Walters said his idea is to start with the 9 percent cuts and then add back what money there is to the agencies that need it most.

"It's a new day. It's a new approach," Walters said. "We're going to be cutting back on a lot of services."

As for State Question 640, Walters said "you can go both ways on that. In one sense, it hamstrings our ability to solve problems. …

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