The Norman Transcript


March 30, 2014

Negotiations to begin on state budget, policy



Hickman said increased funding for common education and pay raises for targeted state employees like corrections officers, child-welfare workers and Highway Patrol troopers is a priority for members of his caucus. He said House Republicans would like to see as much as $125 million in additional funding for K-12 schools, which will likely lead to cuts in other areas of state government.

“The House position is that we’re going to have to find some money, but when you’re starting $188 million down ... that’s going to cause some cuts in some other areas,” Hickman said.

Fallin’s proposed budget included a $50 million increase for the Department of Education, as well as increases for child-welfare programs and trooper pay hikes. But Fallin’s proposal also recommended 5 percent cuts to most other agencies, including $47.7 from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which provides health care to the poor, and $49.4 million from the Regents for Higher Education.

The House and Senate also differ on how to pay for repairs to the state Capitol. The Senate passed a bill authorizing up to $160 million in bonds to pay for the project, while the House supports a more modest $120 million for repairs, but wants it to first go to a vote of the people.

The House and Senate also each have separate proposals to change the retirement system for newly hired state workers from a traditional pension to a 401k-style retirement plan, and Hickman has said the House won’t support such a move without targeted pay hikes for some of the lowest-paid state workers.

The governor’s chief negotiator on the budget, Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, urged legislators to be cautious about passing bills that will further reduce how much revenue is available for appropriations. In recent years, the Legislature has approved hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of tax giveaways and diverted some revenue streams away from the General Revenue Fund, the state’s main operating fund for state government.

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