Oklahoma governor, Legislature get huge spending boosts
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt will see his office budget more than double under the state’s new spending plan and the House and Senate also will see huge funding boosts, according to documents released Friday.
Stitt’s office will receive a $2 million increase, a 121% boost over last year’s level and one of the largest increases for any state agency, an agency-by-agency breakdown of the state’s $8.3 billion budget shows.
The budget deal, which Stitt and legislative leaders announced Wednesday, is included in a general appropriations bill that the House passed Friday. It’s scheduled for a hearing in the Senate next week.
While most state agencies received an average increase of 5%, the Senate budget increased by 25% and the House received a nearly 60% boost.
“Right now, the governor’s office is operating on a budget that is the same size as it was in 1982,” said Stitt’s spokeswoman, Donelle Harder. “He’s going to need more hands than he has right now. We only have about 16 staff in the governor’s office.”
Harder said the increase also will go toward compensating many of the governor’s cabinet members who are currently working without a salary. Some of it will also go toward the one-time purchase of office furniture when the governor moves into renovated space later this year.
The huge spending increases for the House, Senate and governor’s office were criticized by Democrats, who say the increases came at the expense of other core state services that have been equally decimated by years of funding cuts.
“It does concern me that our priorities are misplaced,” said House Democratic Leader Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman. “The previous gubernatorial administration seemed to get by just fine with the budget they were given, and they were able to pay people who were qualified, so I don’t know why this administration needs so much more in terms of paying for personnel.”
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat defended his chamber’s 25 percent increase, saying it was justified after years of budget cuts that prevented the Senate from properly updating technology, such as servers, software and hardware.
“Optics are always a concern when you do that,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “But when you have facts on your side that we’ve been cut and we’re sorely behind on IT services and different things in the Senate... I think it’s completely justifiable.”
The Senate’s budget increased from $9.2 million to nearly $11.5 million.
The House increase from $12.5 million to $19.8 million will largely fund an increase in the number of legislative assistants and give those workers a pay raise to put them on par with their Senate counterparts, said Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. He said some of the increased funding also will be used to offset costs associated with the renovation and moving of House offices as part of the Capitol construction project.
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