Oklahoma lawmakers essentially completed the Fiscal Year 2005 state budget with the passage of the final bills out of the General Conference Committee on Appropriations Tuesday – three days before the constitutionally mandated adjournment of the Second Session of the 49th Oklahoma Legislature.
“There are a couple of bills that still have to be heard on the floor of both House and Senate but the budget is finished. We have fulfilled our constitutional duty with time to spare,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Mike Morgan.
“This is just another example of the orderly fashion in which we have gone about our work this year and one more reason why I rank this session as the most successful in my 26 years in the Legislature,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson.
Hobson, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1978 and joined the State Senate in 1990, is the former chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee and former vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I have always said that completing the state budget is 90 percent of the work we do here. This year, with the able leadership of Chairman Morgan in the Senate and Chairman Mitchell in the House that work was completed ahead of schedule and without major logjams in the final week of the session,” Hobson said.
Representative Billy Mitchell, D-Lindsay, is the chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
Morgan credited the early bipartisan passage of a General Appropriations bill for setting the tone for an orderly completion of the FY 2005 budget.
“Last year we were still working out budgetary disagreements with the constitutional clock ticking down in the final hours of the final day of the session. We’ve avoided that this year and I think the spirit of cooperation began with the GA bill and the way that members of both parties and the governor supported it,” Morgan said.
The FY 2005 budget totals $5.3 billion, a $246.3 million or 4.8 percent increase over the FY 2004 budget written by the Legislature last year.
It includes an increase of nearly $100 million for education.
Funding for public schools was increased $58.7 million or 3 percent, including funds to cover 100 percent of the cost of individual health insurance premiums for state teachers. Higher education funding was boosted $34.2 million or 4.3 percent and Career Technology Education was increased by $6 million or 5.1 percent
Additionally, the budget funds a pay raise for state employees, the first such pay increase since 2000. Also included in the FY 2005 budget is $5 million for Governor Brad Henry’s limited voluntary relocation plan for the Tar Creek Superfund Site in northeastern Oklahoma.
Hobson said the involvement in the budgetary process of Governor Brad Henry was also invaluable in continuing the momentum created in the budget process that began with the General Appropriations Bill.
“We are fortunate to have an energetic young governor who has a far-reaching vision for our state who has proven in his first two years to be a formidable force in shaping the future of our state,” Hobson said.