- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - As the newly elected Legislature prepares for the 2015 session, Gov. Mary Fallin said Monday she’s urging lawmakers to give careful scrutiny to the roughly $7 billion state-appropriated budget, especially the amount of money being diverted from Oklahoma’s general revenue fund.

Fallin met Sunday with House Republicans at their annual retreat in Sulphur. She said she’s optimistic that she and the Republican-controlled Legislature will find common ground on policy and budget priorities for the legislative session that begins Feb. 2.

The governor is pushing for a close examination of the state’s budgeting process, especially the increasing amount of state revenue that is being diverted “off the top” directly to fund various programs and is not available for the Legislature and governor to appropriate.

Seven years ago, about 55 percent of overall state revenue collections went into the general revenue fund, the main operating fund for state government. Currently, less than 47 percent of collections go into the fund.

“The Legislature has taken so much money off the top into dedicated funding streams … it leaves very little wiggle room to prioritize where the money needs to go, especially as those needs change,” Fallin said. “That’s not a good way to budget. It doesn’t give us the flexibility that we need.”

Fallin’s chief budget negotiator, Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger, visited with GOP lawmakers on Monday to provide more in-depth analysis of the budget and the potential impact that falling oil and natural gas prices could have on state collections.

Benchmark U.S. crude closed at $69 a barrel Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down about 35 percent since hitting $107 in June. While good for consumers who enjoy lower gas prices, Fallin said falling oil prices could affect collections from oil and gas production taxes.

“I hope that the falling oil and gas prices will be short lived,” Fallin said.

The current year’s budget was built assuming an average oil price of about $87 a barrel.

Fallin also has called on the Legislature to consider spending every other year focused exclusively on budgetary matters. This year’s Legislature includes 10 new senators in the 48-member Senate and 22 new representatives in the 101-member House.

“My goal is to get the legislators to become more involved in the budgeting process, because it’s very complicated,” Fallin said.

Fallin also expects addressing Oklahoma’s growing prison population and developing new education standards will be top policy priorities for her in 2015.


Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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