I’m a fierce critic of The Oklahoman editorial page, as anyone who follows this blog knows, but I’m in full agreement with a portion of a commentary in the newspaper Sunday arguing it’s long past time for the state legislature to stop unveiling the budget at the last minute in any given session.
Oklahoma governor gets little of her requests in 2016 budget: OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Knowing this year's legislative… https://t.co/vDBPkD3NVO
— OKC Breaking News (@okc_news) June 5, 2016
The newspaper doesn’t mince words about it. Here it is:
. . . A rushed product is a flawed product, and Oklahomans shouldn’t have to find out what’s in the budget after it passes every year. An agreement should be unveiled and scrutinized much earlier, and lawmakers should be prepared to either defend it or amend it.The last-week madness must end.
For the record, I oppose the argument in the editorial about school vouchers, and I’m unsure college consolidation would save the state much money, but I do strongly endorse the last sentence in the above paragraph. It bears repeating: “The last-week madness must end. The last-week madness must end.”
— Tulsa World (@tulsaworld) May 31, 2016
It’s terribly unfair for stakeholders—leaders and employees of state agencies, teachers, health workers, etc.—to have to wait until the last week of a legislative session in May to find out how the state budget for the next fiscal year, which starts in July, will impact them. Operating particular agencies, such as the Department of Human Services, and, say, universities or schools, is complex and requires intense budget planning and decision making. The current system puts everything in a last-minute, panic mode.
I don’t know exactly what the answer might be to solve this. Maybe, lawmakers should pass a law the requires them to present a proposed budget agreement by 30 days into a particular session. As The Oklahoman points outs, “An agreement should be unveiled and scrutinized much earlier, and lawmakers should be prepared to either defend it or amend it.” Maybe, the legislature should have “budget-only” sessions, an idea that’s been thrown around for some time now.
Maybe, lawmakers could pass a measure that requires some formal presentation of an itemized proposed budget before any other bills can be considered. Maybe, an initiative petition drive could lead to a ballot question that required itemized budget proposals get presented within the first two weeks of a legislative session.
As you recall, Gov. Mary Fallin laid out some budget proposals in her state of the state address at the start of the session, proposals that included raising taxes on cigarettes and raising teacher salaries. Her ideas got lost in the politics and conservative morass threatening the state’s viability at this point.
So beyond the disastrous $6.8 billion budget put together at the last minute by conservatives intent on breaking the state, there looms the simple question: Why can’t legislative leaders just sit down with the governor and her/his staff immediately before and after the state of the state and prepare a bonafide, line-by-line budget proposal, which then could be debated and vetted. It’s not like the budget, once presented, say, at the end of the first two weeks of a session, has to remain static.
Maybe two weeks is not enough time to prepare a budget because of caucusing and politicking, but legislative- and executive-branch staffers could have been working on it before the session even started. Certainly, I believe, it could be prepared within a month. It’s a simple spread sheet. It can be revised.
The not-so-secret speculation about all this is that some legislators probably want the budget done at the last minute so those citizens who might protest it vehemently might not have the time to figure out the budget’s obscure details, organize and follow through with action. This allows lawmakers to avoid pesky protestors, and then they get to go home. It’s not a good way to do business. “The last-week madness must end.”
— Tulsa World (@tulsaworld) May 27, 2016