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2010 Legislative Session Starts Monday

From The Oklahoman

Lawmakers returning to the state Capitol on Monday will be looking at funding an Oklahoma government that hasn’t had a budget this small in six years.

Legislators have about $860 million available to work their way out of the state’s worst fiscal budget crisis in modern history, those working on next year’s budget say. They will have to decide whether to use all of it, or hold some back in reserve, The Oklahoman reported.

Even if the entire amount is used for the 2011 fiscal year budget, which takes effect July 1, lawmakers would still have to cut state spending by $150 million. As a result, not enough money is in the pot to pay for items usually favored by lawmakers but not considered essential.

Gov. Brad Henry will present his proposed budget Monday in his speech to returning lawmakers. His budget will use revenue estimates prepared last month by the state Tax Commission.

Projections show lawmakers will have about $5.3 billion to appropriate this year, which is about $1.3 billion less than last year. Lawmakers will get a final estimate next month that will be used to prepare next fiscal year’s budget. Recent higher natural gas prices and any indication the recession is ending, such as recovering sales tax and income tax receipts, could result in an increase in the state’s projected income.

After legislative leaders and the governor hammered out an agreement last week on how to balance the 2010 fiscal year budget, negotiators determined lawmakers will have about $860 million on hand to deal with the 2011 fiscal year shortfall.

The agreement calls for using some of the state’s nearly $600 million in its Rainy Day Fund and nearly $700 million in remaining federal stimulus money to take care of this fiscal year’s estimated $530 million budget hole, said state Treasurer Scott Meacham. The state ended up getting an additional $100 million in federal stimulus funds, which are to be used for education and health care, he said. Under terms of the federal stimulus agreement, the state is required to maintain certain funding levels for public education and health care.

Budget negotiators also determined the state will have about $100 million in available cash funds, which will give lawmakers about $860 million on hand for the 2011 fiscal year budget, Meacham said. Lawmakers could tuck some of that money away to cushion possible additional cuts necessary for the 2012 budget year or use it all in the 2011 budget.

The state’s estimated $5.3 billion available for the 2011 fiscal year represents a 20 percent dip from this fiscal year’s budget. The state had $6.6 billion in income and used another $630 million in federal stimulus funds to develop a $7.2 billion budget.

But compared with the 2009 fiscal year, when the state had $7.1 billion in revenue, the size of state government for the upcoming fiscal year must shrink by 25 percent, said Rep. Ken Miller, R-Edmond, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

Some of the bills that affect the trucking industry this session are: HB 3250, by Reps. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, and Danny Morgan, D-Prague, would require drivers to use hands-free devices when talking on cell phones and would prohibit texting while operating a motor vehicle.  SB 1317, by Sen. Earl Garrison, D-Muskogee, would require trucks on the turnpike to travel at a limit of 65 mph instead of 75 mph.

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