Legislative Budget Process Spur More Bickering
Price, Marie, THE JOURNAL RECORD
A Democratic House budget leader given an "F" by the House
minority-party leader, talk of a "mole" within the ranks of the
House GOP caucus and a "top secret" Republican budget file figured
prominently in the ongoing State Capitol soap opera
Before the day was over, both Gov. Frank Keating and Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, had weighed in on the fracas.
The first salvo of the day: "We'd have to give him an 'F' on his 'Government 101' and his 'Appropriations 101,'" said House Minority Floor Leader Fred Morgan, R-OKC, of Rep. Mike Mass, D-Hartshorne, House budget chair. "We believe the budget process is really out of sync."
Morgan's comment was triggered by a "gift" from Mass to Morgan last week of a budget-education packet entitled "State Government 101 for Fred Morgan, Minority Leader." At the time, Mass said that Morgan seemed to be unfamiliar with how the appropriations process works.
On Tuesday, Morgan said that he and the 48 other House Republicans are still not receiving the detailed budget analysis for state agencies they have been seeking for the past few weeks.
Legislators should complete work on supplemental appropriations for the remainder of the fiscal year ending June 30 before proceeding to needs for the fiscal year starting July 1, Morgan said. He suggests beginning with education, public safety and health care before addressing smaller agencies and programs.
"That just seems prudent fiscal policy to me," he said.
Lawmakers also still do not know how much constitutional reserve funding may be needed to fill in budget gaps, Morgan said.
Proposed cuts to education, public safety and health care are too severe, the minority leader said.
He expressed particular concern about reductions in school funding, which he said do not hold education harmless from budget cuts as Democratic leaders initially promised.
"We're concerned that these cuts will be felt in the classroom," he said.
Morgan said that the Republican Caucus supports a 10 percent reduction in the House's own budget as a good-faith step to avoid harming education.
"It's a small sacrifice on our part that sets an example, demonstrates leadership and proves to the people of Oklahoma that we are serious about protecting education," he said.
Morgan said that the Democratic leadership still has not fully funded this year's education budget, leaving a projected $32 million hole in March alone. The Democrats' proposal may also lead to reduced textbook and school lunch program funding for the coming fiscal year, he added.
Morgan was reminded that earlier this session Democratic budget leaders said that a total "hold-harmless" of all levels of education could mean cuts of up to 15 percent in some agencies, and was asked whether he believes any agency could withstand such a reduction.
"We may not be able to get there," Morgan said of holding education completely harmless from funding reductions. "But I'd like to see how close we can get to holding them harmless."
Morgan said that GOP House members have found numerous mistakes and examples of inadequate information in the figures they have received, including incorrect budget numbers and reduction percentages.
"To ask our members to vote on such scant details is insulting to the taxpayers of Oklahoma," he said. "These are the kinds of mistakes that, if we were working in a more deliberative, bipartisan way, we could have avoided in the first place."
Morgan expressed particular concern over funding for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state's Medicaid agency. If, as Democratic leaders say, supplemental appropriations to agencies are not annualized next year, then not only does the authority face a 2.2 percent across-the-board reduction, but will have an additional $15 million budget hole next year.
Morgan said that some 31,000 state children may be cut off of the Medicaid program as a result of the authority's budget woes. …