Legislature overrides governor’s budget veto
The Oklahoma Legislature in early May passed a $7.7 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2021. The amount was about 3% less than FY20, which was the state’s largest budget.
That the cut was this low was the result of a Herculean effort by our legislative budget leaders after they were given estimates from the governor and the state Board of Equalization that we would have $1.4 million, or 17%, less to appropriate this year.
By utilizing measures such as tapping into state reserves, cutting some one-time expenses, allowing transportation bonds, redirecting some apportionments made off the top of the state budget and other approaches, we were able to keep cuts to core state services to about 4% and only 2.5% to public schools.
The governor vetoed three measures that supported the state budget and then the budget itself. The Legislature, by a large majority, was swift in overriding the vetoes.
Several of the measures redirect additional apportionments sent to several of the state pension plans. To be clear, the Legislature is not taking money from the plans. These measures do not touch the corpus of the plans, and benefits will not be reduced. In fact, the House and Senate passed a cost-of-living-adjustment that will increase benefits to retirees if the governor signs it into law. More than a decade ago, the pension plans were in terrible shape, with funding ratios low and several facing fiscal insolvency. The Legislature decided to send additional money each year to these plans to ensure the future of our pension system is strong. This year, we will send about $200 million in additional money to these plans and redirect a portion of what would normally go into pensions, will be sent to education. When our economy improves, we will resume normal apportionments to the pension funds with a bit of an increase.
The governor also vetoed a transportation bill that redirects money from transportation to education. Curiously, the governor approved the bill that will allow transportation bonds. So, had we let his veto stand, transportation would have received a disproportionate increase and education would have been further decimated with a 12.5% cut. All of the momentum gained through teacher pay raises and additional money sent to schools and classrooms would have been erased. We could not let this happen.
The governor intimated in his veto message of the budget that the process was not transparent. We’ve held public meetings beginning last fall and in January and since returning to the Capitol after the COVID-19 shutdown to give details of the state budget. The governor also dismissed the work that was done to keep cuts to core services low as being irresponsible. I respect the governor and much of the work he’s done since coming into office. I look forward to a better working relationship with him in the future. But on the budget, I and a large majority of my fellow lawmakers disagree with his assessment. We believe the decisions we have made to fund core services during this time is the right call for Oklahoma.