Senate Appropriations Chairman Johnnie Crutchfield said Tuesday that he’s fearful that the unwillingness of the House Republican leadership to compromise on any budget issue could be a signal of a potential GOP-led shutdown of state government.
“It could just be a sign of House leadership’s inexperience in writing a state budget, but I’m fearful that Representative Hiett plans to follow the example set a decade ago by the first Republican speaker of the U.S. House in a generation,” Crutchfield said.
“The House Republicans have been very proud and loud over the years in professing their anti-government philosophy. If they are not careful, they could carry out that philosophy to its ultimate end and be responsible for shutting down government in Oklahoma the way Newt Gingrich did in Washington.”
The Ardmore Democrat said the House’s “my way or the highway” tactics have stalled negotiations on a general appropriations bill, prompting the Senate to begin work in individual agency appropriation bills.
He said the fact that House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Chris Benge has amended the Senate general appropriations bill to mirror the one passed by the House on March 16 is a perfect example of “their idea of compromise.”
“It doesn’t matter how many times we have met or could meet this week, there’s no point in continuing negotiations if one side says it’s ‘my way or the highway,’” Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield said he is still hopeful that the House will move quickly to pass Senate Bill 217, a $2.152 billion budget for common education. Senators passed SB 217 on a bi-partisan, unanimous 43-0 vote on March 14.
“State law says the Legislature must fund education first. The Senate did that more than two weeks ago and the House can send historic public school funding to the governor as early as this afternoon. All they have to do is to make their record match their rhetoric,” Crutchfield said.
He said SB 217 appropriates $22.7 million more for K-12 education than the House general appropriations bill. It utilizes proceeds from the Oklahoma Education Lottery, approved by voters in November, to fully fund full-day kindergarten.
The Senate public school appropriation bill also funds the provisions of Governor Henry’s Achieving Classroom Excellence initiative spelled out in Senate Bill 982, which also passed the Senate on a bi-partisan, unanimous vote – this time 46-0.
“Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are united in their support of both the Governor’s ACE initiative and a K-12 appropriation that fully funds our schools. Based on Governor Henry’s comments Monday, he’s supportive as well and so are the Democrats in the House,” Crutchfield said.
“That leaves only Speaker Hiett and the House Republicans – rather ironically – standing in the way of funding education first and getting on with true negotiations on the remainder of the state budget.”
Crutchfield said the Senate doesn’t intend to play any role in shutting down state government.
“We’re going to begin hearing individual agency appropriation bills and keep our fingers crossed that the House will choose to avoid a budget train wreck and come back to the negotiating table with a willingness to reach a compromise,” Crutchfield said.