Appropriations Committee Chairman Mike Morgan announced Tuesday that the Appropriations sub-committees in the Oklahoma State Senate will begin work on the FY 2006 state budget in the next two weeks.
“We’ve got a tremendous amount of work ahead of us and we’ve got seven new sub-committee chairpersons who are eager to get to work on what could be one of the most challenging appropriations processes in recent years,” said Morgan, D-Stillwater.
Morgan said writing the next state budget could be every bit as difficult was preparing the FY 2004 budget, his first as Appropriations chairman.
“Two years ago, we had a $700 million revenue shortfall. In the coming session we’ll be facing a $500 million challenge as we fill key funding gaps and continue some of the important work we began last year to move our state forward,” the chairman said.
“With that in mind, we’re going to start the process of identifying our budget needs before Christmas.”
“We’re going to approach our challenges as opportunities – opportunities to make state government more effective and, where it needs to be, more efficient,” Morgan said.
Morgan was joined in his announcement by Education Sub-Committee Chairman Johnnie Crutchfield, who also serves as vice-chairman of the full Appropriations Committee.
“Keeping our state’s veteran teachers in Oklahoma classrooms rather than have them fleeing to Texas for better paying jobs is one of the keys to improving education in our state. We’ve got to keep the promise we made last year to provide funding to raise teachers’ salaries in Oklahoma to the regional average,” said Crutchfield.
The state’s “Education First” law requires that lawmakers send an appropriation for K-12 schools to Governor Henry by March 16, Crutchfield noticed.
Morgan and Crutchfield pointed out that even though funding teacher pay raises is the most high profile need, there are other challenges ahead.
“We have funding gaps in Medicaid and at both the Department of Corrections and the Department of Human Services that must be addressed in the Fiscal Year 2006 budget.
“We have to replace $100 million in one-time federal funding that we used last year and we have to pay for the second phase of the salary increases for state employees,” Morgan said.
The chairman and vice chairman said they are in the process of contacting the heads of the sub-committees.
The other sub-committees and chairpersons are:
Human Services, Senator Bernest Cain, D-Oklahoma City;
General Government and Transportation, Senator Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta;
Natural Resources and Regulatory Services, Senator Jeff Rabon, D-Hugo;
Public Safety and Judiciary, Senator Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau;
Health and Social Services, Senator Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa;
And Select Agencies, Senator Susan Paddack, D-Ada.
The goal is for each to begin meetings before the State Equalization Board meets in mid-December to provide the first projection of FY 2006 revenue.
“If we have a good idea of what our needs will be when the Equalization Board gives us an initial estimate of how much revenue will be available to appropriate, we’ll be in a better position to assess our priorities and our ability to meet those priorities when the session begins in February,” Morgan said.
“There’s just too much work to do to wait until after the New Year.”