House Speaker Loyd Benson and Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor announced late today that both Houses have reached a final agreement that will allow lawmakers to put the finishing touches on the state budget.
Speaker Benson said he was pleased by the agreement.
"Writing a state budget is a huge task at best," he said, "but the hard work has paid off. We have a solid proposal for a balanced budget - a proposal that's good for Oklahoma. Improving the higher education and health care systems is vital to the quality of life of every Oklahoman."
Taylor echoed the Speaker's comments.
"Good things take time and I think this budget agreement is a perfect example of that. It funds the critical areas of state government in a responsible manner. I don't think the Speaker and I ever doubted that we would eventually have a meeting of the minds on this issue. It just took a lot of hard work and cooperation from both sides, especially the subcommittee chairmen who were called upon to do a lot of the heavy lifting," said Senator Taylor.
Under the agreement hammered out by House and Senate negotiators, higher education will receive an additional $40 million and the health care initiative will get $36.4 million, allowing the state to leverage approximately $100 million in additional federal matching Medicaid money.
"The investment in higher education is critical. It's one of the best economic development tools we have going for the state and it's very important that we give our colleges and universities the resources they need to help fuel the Oklahoma economy," said Senator Taylor.
Benson said the budget agreement would allow lawmakers to expand health care services throughout Oklahoma.
"By investing $36.4 million we can generate hundreds of millions of federal dollars for more health care coverage and service," he said. "The bottom line is this: we'll be able to provide health coverage for more Oklahomans, raise the salaries of thousands of underpaid health care workers, develop a serious smoking prevention program and give health care providers incentives to serve more people."
Legislative leaders also agreed to create a special tobacco trust fund and to deposit at least $50 million of the tobacco settlement money that will be received in the next fiscal year. Additionally, House and Senate members are continuing to make progress on projects for Phase II of the road construction program and the second phase of a statewide capital
improvements bond issue.
Benson and Taylor praised the efforts of legislative negotiators.
"It's never easy to develop a budget. You have to consider all viewpoints. We had many different people working and contributing, but I want to publicly thank Rep. Bill Mitchell, he gave 110 percent," said Benson.
"I think everything is finally coming together. Both sides are working in good faith to tie up any remaining loose ends and are moving toward what we hope will be an orderly adjournment. A lot of people have participated in this process so there is plenty of credit to go around. In addition to commending the Speaker and his House leadership team, I applaud the Senate negotiators, especially Senator Ben Robinson, who worked so hard to make this agreement a reality," said Senator Taylor.