CAPITOL CORNER

by Gus Blackwell

Okla. House 61

One of the prime functions of the Legislature is to allocate money. We have to do the math. While the budget is the primary way of fulfilling that role, during the spring the Legislature looks at supplemental funding. This funding is to agencies and departments that for legitimate reasons may not be able to finish the year with the current budget.

This “supplemental funding” usually occurs in March or even in April. The reason that it takes so long once the Legislature convenes in February is two-fold. One, the Legislature must wait until the final certification of funds in late February to see how much money will be available for the next year. Any supplemental funding by nature will be taken away from the next year's budget. Second, the House, Senate, and Governor must agree on a supplemental in order for it to be passed.

Last year a special session was needed because the Senate refused to agree to a budget compromise reached by the Speaker of the House and the Governor. That compromise involved both a substantial pay raise for the teachers and the money for schools to pay the benefits that accompanied the pay raise. However, there were a few term limited Senate Democrats that refused any bill but their own. That bill gave teachers a $3,000 mandated pay raise, but did not give schools any money to pay for other costs associated with that raise. That is not very good math.

Their bill was passed with an understanding that this year a supplemental would be given to schools to help the administration with those costs this year. The cost of that supplemental was estimated to be about 21 million dollars.

Of course that is how the Legislature has done business for 100 years and that is one reason we continue to be a poor state. There are two problems with that approach. One is that a previous Legislature can't obligate a future Legislature. Second, and more important, is that due to the cyclical nature of economics, no one can know the amount of money that will be available for the next budget year.

During the interim, that request for an additional 21 million has increased to 58 million. An additional 17 million has also been added due to the failure of the lottery to bring in its estimated revenue. That request for $75 million for education is only a part of the $239 million in supplemental requests from all agencies.

Agencies have also requested 1.6 billion in new budget requests for the 2008 budget. Any money given in a 2007 supplemental will have to be subtracted from money for the 2008 budget. During the State of the State address the Governor gave an ambitious plan that outlined over 1 billion dollars in new spending.

This year there is $250 million in money available for a supplemental for 2007 and growth revenue for the 2008 budget. Do the math. It doesn't quite add up. That doesn't stop those who were clamoring the loudest for the increased budget last year to demand more money right now.

There will be a supplemental to help education, public safety, emergency funding for the disasters during the winter, and healthcare. That must be made to fit within the parameters of the budget for 2008. This time the entire procedure must be done in a competent and fiscally responsible manner. That takes time to complete a thoughtful process. A supplemental will be passed as soon as the House, Senate, and Governor all agree and have done the math right this time.