Oklahoma Senate approves $8.1B spending plan
The Oklahoma Senate gave final legislative approval Tuesday to an $8.1 billion spending plan that includes teacher pay raises, pay bumps for state employees and builds on the common education funding increase the Legislature appropriated last year.
Having cleared both chambers of the Legislature, the fiscal year 2020 general appropriations bill that outlines state spending for next year now heads to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk for final approval.
The $8.3 billion budget, which includes $8.1 billion in spending and $200 million in savings, is the largest in the state’s history.
For the second year in a row, the budget grants pay raises for state employees, at a cost of $37.7 million.
The budget appropriates $157.7 million in new dollars for common education, including $74 million in additional classroom funding and a teacher pay raise that begins on Sept. 1. On average, teachers will receive pay raises of $1,200.
The Legislature appropriated $480 million in new funding for public schools last year.
The state budget also socks away $200 million in savings, a top priority for Stitt.
Senate Democrats asked questions about the spending plan for more than an hour Tuesday before a brief debate.
Democrats argued the budget does not do enough for public education. Sen. J.J. Dossett took issue with the $200 million in savings, which will boost the state’s Rainy Day Fund over $1 billion.
The public wants that money to return to the classroom after public education is still down from where it was a decade ago, before the Great Recession, Dossett said.
“Saving money is a great idea for the future when you don’t have bills to pay,” Dossett said.
As a minority in the Legislature, Democrats were not involved in crafting the final budget.
Republican legislative leaders and representatives from the governor’s office crafted the budget behind closed doors.
Republicans argued the savings can help prevent funding for education and other services from being cut the next time the state faces an economic downturn.
Sen. Roger Thompson hearkened back to 2015, his first year in the Legislature, when the state had an $800 million budget shortfall.
“We cried when we had to cut education and the other agencies because we had not prepared for it,” he said. “Now, with the leadership of our governor, we shall be prepared the next time that it comes along and those cuts will not be made and our children’s classes will not be cut.”
Republicans also praised the state budget for its increased education funding.
Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat said the 2020 budget builds on a commitment to public education the state Legislature cemented last year.
“When we left we said, ‘we are not one and done but we are committed for the long run,’” he said. “This budget represents that.”
The appropriations bill cleared the chamber on a largely partisan vote. Democrats opposed the spending plan along with Republican Sens. Nathan Dahm and Joseph Silk. The budget bill passed 37-11.
After years of budget shortfalls that caused the state to cut funding for public education and other services, a rebounding economy led to a $600 million surplus in the fiscal year 2020 budget.
The fiscal year 2020 budget is a 7.8% increase over the current year’s budget. On top of increased education funding, the budget includes new funding for higher education, health care and criminal justice reforms.
The budget will go into effect July 1 after Stitt signs it into law.