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New legislation would require line item budget for major state agencies

Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report
(L-R) Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-OKC), Sen. AJ Griffin (R-Guthrie) and Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) unveiled legislation that would require state agencies receiving more than $100 million to submit line item budgets.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Seven Oklahoma legislators unveiled new legislation Tuesday that they said would force lawmakers to physically get involved with the budgeting process and increase transparency by requiring agencies receiving more than $100 million in appropriated funds to submit line item budgets.

Senate Bill 875 would require the Oklahoma Legislature to approve the line-item budgets for the agencies that receive the vast majority of state appropriations each year. One of the bill’s authors, Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) said that line-item budgeting isn’t a new idea, but that line item budgets were ended in 2009 to give agencies more flexibility in times of limited resources.

“When we talk about our budget in the state of Oklahoma, it is a very complex, very challenging issue, as we all know,” Thompson said. “The budget issues aren’t just challenging to the agencies, but also challenging to the taxpayers. Our goal is to have an efficient government that funds core programs efficiently. I believe, in order to do that, it is beneficial to have collaboration between the agencies and legislators.”

Agencies that would have to submit line-item budgets are those that receive more than $100 million in state funds and include the Department of Education, CareerTech, Department of Transportation, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections. The Regents for Higher Education would not be required to submit a line item budget because the state constitution restricts the Legislature from specifying how the appropriations are allocated.

With line-item budgets, Thompson said, the Legislature and agencies would be able to identify which programs were not working and eliminate those or look to how to improve upon programs that needed help.

“We will have opportunity for reform by either eliminating programs that need to be eliminated instead of starving them to death or find those that are inefficient and work together,” he said. “The bill we are talking about is one that will basically line item all agencies that receive more than $100 million a year. Those agencies that receive more than $100 million a year are about 88.7 percent of our overall budget.”

Thompson said the legislation would give lawmakers a better understanding of how agencies are using the state-appropriated funds and would allow lawmakers and agencies to decide if the resources are being allocated to prioritize the needs of citizens. He added that lawmakers should have the responsibility of examining all programs, services and expenses of the major agencies and to share with the public how the dollars are being used.

“As we move forward with this bill, I think it puts responsibility back on us to have line item budgets. I say once again that this used to be the practice in this building in 2008,” Thompson said. “We believe it’s time to bring this back to government.”

The bill was also co-authored by Sen. AJ Griffin (R-Guthrie), Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-OKC), Sen. Jason Smalley (R-Stroud), Sen. Marty Quinn (R-Claremore), Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tulsa) and Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville).

“Legislators are responsible for appropriately funding what we ask those agencies to do,” said Griffin. “The desire of this group is to open the dialogue, disrupt the budget process that we have currently so that the agencies that are operating programs that our citizens demand are doing so adequately.”

Oklahoma faced a $869 million budget shortfall this year.

The new bill announcement came a day after the Oklahoma City Public Schools board unanimously approved a resolution to pursue a school funding lawsuit to force the state Legislature to find more money for schools.

The district had announced a possible lawsuit against the Legislature, House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and Senate Pro Tempore Mike Schulz (R-Altus) to fund the unfunded legislative mandates.

Oklahoma City Public Schools was among the state districts affected by Oklahoma’s state revenue failure, cutting $30 million from its budget in 2016-2017.

A bill that raised the cigarette tax in Oklahoma and was expected to generate more than $200 million was also ruled unconstitutional earlier this month by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Revenue from the cigarette fee was expected to raise $225 million. Of that, $214 million would have been appropriated for the fiscal year budget on July 1 and earmarked for earmarked for a special Health Care Enhancement Fund that supports health and social programs.

“By digging deeper and really examining all the programs, services and other expenses these major agencies are funding, the public is going to be more fully informed about how those dollars are being used, and lawmakers will have the ability to be better stewards of those dollars,” Thompson said.

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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