By Rep. Josh Cockroft
I get many questions, comments, and concerns about the budget process, so I’ll use this column to help walk through the process and explain this complex work. From the outside, I understand it is easy to believe the rhetoric that the legislative process is sluggish, and that members “waste” time on other issues. It helps to better understand the process. Budget work should be deliberative; it always takes time to complete a final product.
Budget work actually started last October when we started looking at preliminary agency budgets and hearing initial projections of state revenue. Before session even started, we held public hearings with five state agencies that receive almost 80 percent of the state’s appropriated budgets. This gave legislators the chance to ask questions of the agencies about their budget priorities for the next fiscal year and to help identify projects that could be held as the state continues to recover from an economic downturn. These preliminary hearings had never been held before by any Oklahoma Legislature.
Up until last week, appropriations and budget (A&B) subcommittees met with state agencies for even more detailed discussions. All representatives were asked to rotate through all of the subcommittees this year to get a better look at the overall budget. Never before have sub-committees met with state agencies during session in any previous Legislature.
At the same time, the full House A&B Committee has begun to consider a number of budget bills, and the Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget, made up of House and Senate members, has met multiple times. We’ve added numerous budget hearings every week to crack down on our shortfall. With the introduction and passage of several revenue raising bills out of the Joint Committee, this week’s hearing of budget bills was the earliest such work has ever been done during any previous legislative session.
When it comes to raising revenues, the Legislature has two paths to procedurally take. The Oklahoma Constitution outlines that in order to raise taxes a measure must pass with 3/4 majority, or 76 votes, in the House. However, to raise revenue by eliminating deductions, credits, and subsidies, it only takes a simple majority, 51 members. In the House A&B Committee, we started with budget measures that will require only 51 votes to pass. If every proposed measure of this type passes, this would more than fill the $878 million budget hole the state currently has and help us pay for the $6,000 teacher pay raise earlier approved.
If needed, we will move to measures that would raise revenue – ideas for this include an increase on the tax on a pack of cigarettes, an increase on gas or diesel fuel, an increase in gross production taxes, an increase on alcohol, and several other ideas. These measures would require 76 votes in the House.
One bill that will save the state over $500 million over the next 10 years was signed into law by the governor this week. House Bill 2298 ends the zero-emission tax credit on wind energy as of July 1. This industry has been so successful in our state; it is no longer in its infancy. The wind industry came to the table and worked with us to end this credit.
I will continue to keep you updated as the session progresses. The process is working, and it’s working faster than ever. I implore individuals to ask questions of their elected officials instead of automatically placing assumptions. I am always available.
Never hesitate to give your thoughts, concerns, and opinions. I value hearing from each person which enables me to represent my district to the best of my ability. It matters not if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent; I am here to serve you. I am always a phone call away at: (405) 557-7349. You can also email me at: Josh.Cockroft@okhouse.gov.