Bud­get cut bill ad­vances out of com­mit­tee, but ques­tions linger

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - Capi­tol Bureau dden­walt@ok­la­homan.com BY DALE DENWALT

Ok­la­homa House and Se­nate law­mak­ers ad­vanced a bill Tues­day that strips mil­lions from state agency bud­gets and raids sev­eral other gov­ern­ment ac­counts.

As it crosses each chambers' floor this week, the leg­is­la­tion leaves politi­cians at the Capi­tol with moral, eth­i­cal and fidu­ciary de­ci­sions as they try to fill a $215 mil­lion bud­get short­fall.

For ex­am­ple, the bill ap­pro­pri­ates an emer­gency $30 mil­lion to the be­lea­guered De­part­ment of Health, which con­firmed it won't make the last round of Novem­ber pay­roll if law­mak­ers don't pass it by Fri­day.

County of­fi­cials are wor­ried that the pro­posed $30 mil­lion draw from a fund for county road and bridge im­prove­ment is more than what will be avail­able to spend.

On Tues­day af­ter­noon, State Trea­surer Ken Miller said he has se­ri­ous con­cerns about the $8 mil­lion that the bill with­draws from the Un­claimed Prop­erty Fund and overuse by law­mak­ers to help close bud­get holes.

De­spite that, lead­er­ship pushed ahead with backto-back votes in the House and Se­nate Joint Com­mit­tees on Ap­pro­pri­a­tions and Bud­get, al­beit grudg­ingly. House Floor Leader Jon Echols said the only other op­tion would be to let the $215 mil­lion cut hit the three af­fected agen­cies on Dec. 1, which would af­fect men­tal health ser­vices and end Ok­la­homa’s use of the AD­van­tage Waiver Pro­gram.

The agency that over­sees Soon­erCare is also sched­uled to vote on whether to pro­ceed with a 9 per­cent cut to the rates doc­tors are paid to see Med­i­caid pa­tients.

“And make no mis­take, ladies and gentle­men, that is what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” said Echols, R-Ok­la­homa City. “That is what a vote ‘no’ to­day does.”

The House com­mit­tee ap­proved it by a 17-13 vote, but not af­ter a four-hour break that led to spec­u­la­tion it might not have enough votes to pass. Even House Speaker Charles Mc­Call, R-Atoka, took a rare com­mit­tee vote to en­sure it ad­vances to the floor.

Se­nate lead­er­ship also voted in their com­mit­tee, where it passed 7-5.

The bill is sched­uled to be heard on the House floor at 10 a.m. Wed­nes­day. If it re­ceives a ma­jor­ity vote, the Se­nate can con­sider fi­nal pas­sage on Fri­day.

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