Wednesday, August 23, 2017

State Senators file line-item budgeting measure

Sen. Stephanie Bice; R-Oklahoma City; Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah; Sen. AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie, and Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, discuss line-item budgeting bill at a press conference held Tuesday at the state Capitol.

Seven members of the Oklahoma State Senate have co-authored legislation aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in exactly how tax dollars are being used by the agencies receiving the vast majority of state appropriations each year. Senate Bill 875 would require the Legislature to approve line-item budgets for agencies appropriated more than $100 million in state funds.

Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, is the principal author of the legislation, co-authored by Sen. AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie; Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City; Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud; Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore; Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle; and Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville. Thompson, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance, said the legislation would give legislators and their constituents a clearer understanding of exactly how agencies are using their state appropriated resources, and an opportunity to redirect how those resources are allocated to prioritize the needs of citizens.

“The biggest responsibility the Legislature has is writing and passing the budget. One way or another, it impacts every single person in our state,” Thompson said. “By digging deeper and really examining all the programs, services and other expenses these major agencies are funding, the public is going to be more fully informed about how those dollars are being used, and lawmakers will have the ability to be better stewards of those dollars.”

Agencies that would be subject to this legislation include the Department of Education; CareerTech; Department of Transportation; the Oklahoma Health Care Authority; the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse; the Department of Human Services; and the Department of Corrections. While annual appropriations to Higher Education are more than $100 million, the state constitution restricts the Legislature from specifying how the appropriation is allocated.

“Line item budgeting is not a new concept. It was done through 2009 and then was ended in order to give agencies more flexibility in times of limited resources,” Thompson said. “But the bottom line is lawmakers are the representatives of the people—we are making decisions on their behalf and are accountable to them in ways state agencies are not. This is our responsibility, especially as we face continued budget challenges.”

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