I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Another decade is here as well as another legislative session. The 2nd Session of the 57th Legislature begins on Monday, Feb. 3.
This week was the first major hurdle in the legislative session – filing bills. Originally in December, the Senate requested nearly 1,440 bills while the House requested 1,620. Legislative staff have been working tirelessly to research and draft those requests.
As always happens, however, once research got underway and legislators started working with their colleagues the actual number of bills was whittled down significantly. The Senate ended up filing nearly 860 and the House filed around 1,360.
Being the second session, we also have nearly 2,200 bills that will carry over from last session. As long as they weren’t voted down in committee or on the floor, they can be brought back up this session.
This year, I’ve filed nearly 20 bills, which I’ll be discussing in the coming weeks. You can read them and any other bills filed on the Senate website at www.oksenate.gov.
Besides legislation, we’re also in the early stages of budget work. Our various appropriations subcommittees have been meeting with all of the state agencies since November to learn how they’ve been utilizing state funds and what their needs are moving forward. Agencies use this opportunity to ask for funding to cover every possible program and future plan they may have. While asking for a 20% or more budget increase may seem extreme, it is helpful for the legislature as long as they share what they want to use the funds for moving forward.
The legislature’s struggle, however, is there are over 60 agencies and only so much of the revenue pie to hand out. We are a Balanced Budget state meaning we can’t spend a penny more than what is certified by the State Equalization Board.
Last month, the board certified the first revenue estimate for the FY’21 budget. This initial amount will be used by Gov. Stitt to prepare his Executive Budget that he will present to the legislature and the people of Oklahoma on the first day of session (Monday, Feb. 3). The Board will then reassess state revenues in the spring and provide the final amount to the legislature later next month. That is the amount we constitutionally must use to craft the state budget.
We’re looking at a flat budget year. The Board approved just over $8.3 billion in revenue, which is just over $9 million more than we had to spend this year.
Gross receipts to the State Treasurer as well as General Revenue Fund collections show Oklahoma’s economy is slowing down. Revenue numbers remain barely above last year’s but they have been consistently dropping from month to month. There’s a possibility that if energy prices and sales tax collections continue to fall that we could be looking at a smaller budget amount next month. When oil and gas prices tumble, it affects several other areas of our economy so hopefully the industry picks back up.
In other financial news, Oklahoma’s credit outlook has been upgraded from stable to positive. This is exciting news not only for our government, but for our business community and economy overall. The nation is taking notice of the big things happening in our state. Moody’s attributed the upgrade to our efforts to increase savings, strengthen our pension systems, eliminate structural deficits and diversify our economy. We will continue with those efforts this coming session as we work to make Oklahoma a Top 10 State in all areas.