Oklahoma Legislature sends $9.8B state budget to Gov. Kevin Stitt

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The Oklahoma Legislature on Friday sent Gov. Kevin Stitt a $9.8 billion state budget that includes direct rebates for taxpayers, pay raises for some state employees and less than 1% in new funding for common education for the upcoming year.

Stitt has not publicly commented on the details of the proposed spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

He will have until the end of the day Thursday to sign, veto or line-item veto the budget. If Stitt takes no action, the spending plan will become law absent his signature.

Lawmakers are planning to be back at the state Capitol next week in case they need to override any budget vetoes.

Related: Proposed $9.8B Oklahoma state budget includes direct $75 rebates, state worker pay raises

Democrats say budget falls short on education funding

Republican legislative leaders have touted the budget as a win for taxpayers that makes targeted investments, provides tax relief while inflation is high and socks away extra revenue for a rainy day.

Democrats said the budget doesn't prioritize common education because it lacks teacher pay raises and doesn't funnel more dollars into the classroom.

Despite asking for $96 million in additional funding this year, the state Education Department will only receive a 0.54% increase that amounts to $17 million.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, criticized that the budget package includes $698 million in business incentives for a multibillion-dollar company presumed to be Panasonic, but it doesn't include more money for teachers.

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"At a time when we are losing teachers and there are billboards on the interstate recruiting teachers to Texas, we don’t see a teacher pay raise in this budget," she said.

House Appropriations Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, who played a key role in writing the budget, said the incentive package, while included in a package of more than two dozen budget bills, will be funded with extra carryover revenue and not through the budget that appropriates General Revenue Fund dollars.

He also touted the $698 million incentive package for Project Ocean as a way to bring more high-paying jobs to the state of Oklahoma.

Wallace noted higher education is getting a 7.4% funding increase that includes $17 million in scholarships to incentivize more Oklahomans to become teachers.

"This is a solid, comprehensive budget that is the effort of nearly a year's worth of work held in numerous public meetings," Wallace said. "It generously funds public services important to all Oklahomans, including education, health and mental health care, transportation, law enforcement and public safety and many other areas, as well as record amounts of investments in economic development."

The House approved the general appropriations bill — the backbone of the state budget — on a vote of 74-15. Democrats largely opposed the spending plan.

Republicans also touted the budget as fiscally conservative because lawmakers didn't appropriate all of the $10.4 billion certified for the upcoming fiscal year.

There's $503 million left on the table that can be carried over to next year, Wallace said.

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"There are dollars being saved because it’s not if there will be another (economic) downturn, it’s when," said House Appropriations Vice Chairman Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond.

Economic development measure criticized for lack of detail

As a slate of related budget bills moved through the Senate, legislation to dedicate $250 million to increasing the number of "shovel-ready" economic development sites across Oklahoma spurred debate on how the Legislature should invest state dollars.

Democrats criticized legislation to create the Progressing Rural Economic Prosperity Fund for lacking details on how the money would be spent.

"As written, this is an incredibly ambiguous proposal," said Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said top legislators have a conceptual agreement and will work to iron out the details.

The fund will allow the state to work with local, county and tribal offices to improve economic development infrastructure with the goal of attracting more businesses to the state, Thompson said.

Legislators will decide how to spend the PREP funds in an upcoming special legislative session.

Democrats argued the $250 million in funding could make a tangible impact for education this year.

"It would be night and day in terms of people's understanding of our commitment to education," Kirt said.

Oklahoma taxpayers to get $75 direct rebates

Similarly, legislation set to provide all state taxpayers with a direct rebate of $75 for single filers and $150 for families spurred questions on whether the proposal is the best way to give back. The direct rebates come with a one-time price tag of $181 million.

Thompson said the bill is a win because Oklahomans because they can choose how to spend the extra money. As for wealthy Oklahomans who might not need the money, they can donate it, Thompson said.

"We're able to give it back to the taxpayers, and I personally believe that is the right thing to do," he said.

The budget proposal also includes the elimination of the state's 1.25% sales tax on all vehicle sales. As a result, the state will lose an estimated $188 million in annual tax revenue.

A budget appropriation for the Department of Human Services to eliminate its 5,146-person developmental disability services waiting list drew bipartisan support and brought the Senate together in applause.

The money is set to fund home- and community-based services for some of the state's most vulnerable residents and a 25% rate increase for providers who serve them.

"We are not trying to take people off the list by finding a way to get them off the list, we are trying to get them off the list by providing the services that they need," said Sen. Paul Rosino, R-Oklahoma City.

The legislative effort to provide more money to get families off the waiting list goes back a decade. Several senators reflected tearfully on the chamber floor about the journey to get to this point.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma Legislature sends $9.8B state budget to Gov. Kevin Stitt desk