Skip to Site Navigation | Skip to Content

Lawmakers debate budget bills

Lawmakers debate budget bills

This article first appeared in the Journal Record.

May 20, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma lawmakers debated funding bills for state agencies Tuesday and questioned their spending priorities in a tight budget year as the Legislature moved closer to a planned adjournment on Friday.

The House and Senate have taken up dozens of budget limitation and other funding bills to pay for state services in the upcoming year following last week’s agreement on a $7.2 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.

The state budget plan uses $631 million in federal stimulus dollars to increase spending for education and health care while cutting other agencies by 7 percent overall. But some House members questioned the Legislature’s spending priorities during debate on funding bills for agencies they said are not core functions of state government.

“It’s not an appropriate use of our taxpayer dollars,” said state Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City.

Lawmakers passionately debated funding measures for the Oklahoma Arts Council, the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority and the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, which operates a statewide public TV network.

OETA’s $4.8 million state appropriation represents a 42.5-percent cut from the previous year due to the elimination of $3.2 million for new digital equipment purchased in previous years. But it also represents a cut in its operating budget of $363,607, or about 7 percent, that is in line with other agencies, lawmakers said.

Supporters of the public TV network said it is an important educational and entertainment service that is the only source of news and information for Oklahomans who live in rural areas and cannot afford cable or satellite television services.

“Leave Big Bird alone,” said state Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, referring to the full-body figure in a yellow costume featured on the Public Broadcasting System’s children’s television show Sesame Street.

“We know this is a tough year on the budget,” said state Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville.

Sears said he is frustrated that the budget plan includes no raises for schoolteachers and public employees, many of whom have not received a raise since October 2006.

“It’s called balancing,” Sears said. “Deals have been cut. Let’s don’t take it out on this particular agency.”

But opponents said it is not appropriate to fund nonessential state agencies when core government functions, such as the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade, are asked to take cuts that could result in worker furloughs.

“We want to tell them we want to leave Big Bird alone? Priorities, members, priorities,” said state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow. “We don’t have money to send the 45th overseas but we’ve got money for Big Bird.”

When lawmakers do not fully fund the essential services of government, “we’ve got it upside down,” Ritze said. “We’re looking at funding a TV station instead of funding law enforcement. Frankly, it’s a slap in the face.”

“We didn’t earn this money. The taxpayers earned it,” Reynolds said. “The Legislature didn’t earn it, but now we’re going to spend it in the next three days, $7 billion of it.”

The funding bill’s author, state Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, said many lawmakers who oppose funding for OETA appear on its news programs to promote their ideas.

“My own children cut their teeth on Big Bird,” Denney said.

Denney also pointed out that the measure was a budget limitation bill whose defeat would simply remove legislative oversight over how the agency spends money it is appropriated by a separate measure, the general appropriations bill.

The bill passed 77-20 and was sent to the Senate for final action.

No comments (Add your own)

Add a New Comment


Comment Guidelines: No HTML is allowed. Off-topic or inappropriate comments will be edited or deleted. Thanks.