By Rep. Scott Fetgatter
The gloves are off, and the tension is ratcheting up as budget conversations become more and more serious with each passing day. Legislators are digging their heels in on policies they believe are best for their constituents, while House leadership continues to search for the best path for the state. It is an interesting process that continues to get tenser as our May budget deadline gets closer and closer.
To complicate matters, Gov. Mary Fallin has begun to provide commentary on the budget talks that doesn’t seem to provide much substance. Specifically, she has suggested to the media that the legislature needs to get to work and provide a budget that can be passed, which is absolutely absurd when you consider what she has contributed thus far.
Remember, the governor is obligated by the Oklahoma Constitution to provide a balanced state budget to the legislature. She presented this budget in February during her annual State of the State Address. Actually, she presented three budgets (a green, yellow, and red). The red budget calls for across-the-board cuts to state agencies that nobody at the Capitol, including the governor, wants.
The governor’s green budget increases taxes on more than 160 goods and services, which is completely asinine. One, we aren’t going to fix our budget hole by making poor and middle class citizens pay more for everyday goods and services. Two, although there have been some fee increases, a tax increase hasn’t been approved in the legislature for more than two decades. Neither her green budget nor her red budget is an acceptable path forward. That leaves the yellow budget…
The yellow budget, as you might have guessed, is a combination of both the red and green budget, with one slight interesting difference. The yellow budget uses the state’s Rainy Day Fund to close some of the current budget hole. Why is this interesting? Because the executive branch exhausted the Rainy Day Fund (a tad more than $240 million), but they didn’t inform the legislature until a reporter from The Oklahoman wrote about it two weeks ago. So this budget, at best, is incomplete.
So on one hand, yes the governor met her constitutional mandate to provide a budget. However, the budgets she provided are not feasible. I am fairly confident that if they did somehow pass, two out of the three would end with protests across the state, and the third wouldn’t fully fund government due to the missing Rainy Day Fund money.
To close, I hope the governor continues her press conferences. I hope she continues to keep the public informed on the budget talks, but I also hope she will come to the table with legitimate ideas that will help move this state forward. However, I am fearful that as the House continues to work on a legitimate solution, we are going to continue to see an executive branch that worries more about politics than policy.
As always, I consider it a great joy in life to serve you in the Oklahoma Legislature. If you have questions, concerns or feedback, please reach out to my office at (405)557-7373.