House Republicans, Democrats clash on $200 million budget savings
Republicans and Democrats in the state House clashed Friday on boosting the state’s Rainy Day Fund as a proposed state budget stirred fierce debate in the chamber.
The House passed the $8.1 billion general appropriation bill on a party-line vote, putting the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget one step closer to completion.
The state budget plan, a compromise between Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Kevin Stitt, squirrels away $200 million in savings. The savings, which would boost the state’s Rainy Day Fund over $1 billion, incited a fierce clash between Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Democrats argued the $200 million — roughly one-third of the state’s projected revenue surplus next year — could better serve the state by boosting funding for education, criminal justice reform and health care. The additional funding could also help boost state agency budgets that faced steep cuts during the Great Recession and never fully recovered, Democrats said.
Republicans, who hold a significant majority in both chambers, backed the proposed savings as step toward fiscal responsibility in advance of an eventual economic downturn.
The state is not going to spend every penny it has, the state is going to be fiscally responsible, said House Majority Leader Rep. Jon Echols.
“Here’s what the budget really comes down to. One side believes that we should save money, one side believes that it is fiscally responsible not to spend every single penny that you have, and the other side doesn’t,” said Echols, R-Oklahoma City.
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin argued the money earmarked for savings could be used to restore state agency funding that was cut over the past decade.
She listed several state agencies, pointing out that the funding for those agencies in the proposed budget would still be millions below the funding those agencies received prior to the Great Recession.
“We had an opportunity to invest, to truly invest in core services this year, and we’re squandering that opportunity for what? Because the governor had a hard line at $200 million in savings because he wants to get to some arbitrary number in savings. That is simply ignoring the needs of Oklahomans,” Virgin said.Boosting state savings is a top priority for Gov. Kevin Stitt, who wants to the fund to hit $2 billion by the end of his first term in office. He and other Republicans have said increased savings could help the state weather any future dips in state revenues due to an economic downturn.
House Democrats and Republicans largely agreed the proposed 2020 budget was the best budget the state had seen in years due to the rare budget surplus. The general appropriation bill passed the House Friday on a 76-23 vote. The full Senate will vote on the budget next week.