MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

May 8, 2013

State House, Senate panels OK $7.1B budget bill

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A $7.1 billion general appropriations bill to fund state government for the upcoming fiscal year cleared its first legislative hurdles among rank-and-file legislators, easily passing House and Senate committees on Wednesday.

The bill next will be considered by the full House and Senate and is expected to pass, despite opposition from Democrats and some Republicans that it didn’t place enough of a priority on public safety entities.

Some members from both parties voiced concern that the budget included about $5 million for the House and Senate to renovate office space, but failed to include funding for pay raises for prison workers or state troopers.

“My concern is that the troopers and public safety is a core function of government,” said Rep. Sally Kern, R-Bethany, the lone Republican who opposed the bill in the House committee. “I think that should have been a higher priority.”

The House and Senate each received a $1 million boost in their budget for operational costs, plus the Legislative Services Bureau received a $5 million appropriation to pay for renovating space on the second floor of the Capitol that was vacated when the Oklahoma Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals moved to a new building.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, said most of the nearly $270 million of new funding spent on the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 went to public education, health care and human services.

“I really think the budget does reflect the will of the body,” Martin said. “I think we have created a fair, balanced budget that we can be proud of.”

The bill passed the House committee on an 18-8 vote.

In the Senate, where the bill passed 16-6, two Republican opposed the measure, voicing concern that a $30 million fund set up to pay for renovations to state buildings could be used to complete work on the unfinished Native American Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. That project stalled after the Oklahoma Legislature declined to issue $40 million in bond funding to finish construction. Several legislators have been critical of the museum’s total costs, which are estimated at $171 million.

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