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Uncertainties about stimulus stymie Oklahoma budget

Uncertainties about stimulus stymie Oklahoma budget

Published: March 27, 2009

 

Budget negotiators may need to abandon hopes of having a clear idea on the use of Oklahoma’s share of federal stimulus funds and start crafting a budget without taking the money into consideration, House Speaker Chris Benge said Thursday.

Legislative steps required to formulate a budget take several weeks, and with eight weeks left in the legislative session, state lawmakers don’t want to risk not getting that done and having to meet in a costly special session, said Benge, R-Tulsa.

"We’re monitoring the federal situation, and I can’t say at this point that it’s any clearer as to what the federal stimulus money looks like,” Benge said.

"We’re about to the point that we’re going to have to start just writing the budget like there’s not going to be stimulus dollars available so that we can move on ... and get the budget set for next year.”

More than $2.6 billion in federal stimulus money is available to Oklahoma the next two fiscal years, but state officials are waiting for regulations and guidelines on how the money can be spent.

Some of the stimulus money can be used to make up shortfalls in the 2010 fiscal year budget caused by declining federal money coming into the state, mostly for Oklahoma’s Medicaid program.

The state has a $900 million budget hole, although it’s expected the federal stimulus money and some available state money could reduce the actual shortfall to about $400 million for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

What’s ahead for state?
Rep. Ken Miller, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said he’s optimistic the state, which has a $7.1 billion budget this fiscal year, will finish in the black.

However, he and others working on the budget would like to see revenue figures for March. The figures are due out by mid-April.

As a result, lawmakers will miss the April 1 deadline to present a common education funding budget to the governor. The deadline has rarely been met since it was enacted several years ago.

"It’s a good goal,” said Miller, R-Edmond. "It does have meaning because we strive for that goal.”

At least $400 million in federal stimulus funds are earmarked for education the next two years.

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