Budget cut bill advances out of committee, but questions linger
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.