- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Democratic leader in the Oklahoma House says this year’s state-appropriated budget needs to be rewritten in light of recent opinions from the attorney general that the Legislature’s decision to tap certain state accounts violated of the Oklahoma Constitution.

State Rep. Scott Inman said Friday he believes a lawsuit will be filed in state court challenging the $7.1 billion budget bill approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. The omnibus bill appropriates money for the operation of the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

“We believe it’s an illegal, unconstitutional budget,” said Inman, D-Del City, “and we believe that the Republican governor and legislative leaders need to take responsibility for their unconstitutional action.

“It’s a shell game.”

In separate opinions released last week by Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt, attorneys for the state determined that the Legislature’s decision to tap money from two separate funds violated a constitutional prohibition on using taxes levied for one purpose for something else.

Oklahoma’s Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger, Fallin’s chief budget negotiator with the House and Senate, was not available to discuss the matter on Friday, but wrote in a letter to state agency leaders that the attorney general opinions, which are advisory only, will not have any immediate impact on agency budgets.

“While no action is necessary today, it may be in the future if additional opinions or court rulings are rendered,” Doerflinger cautioned.

Doerflinger maintains that $5 million taken from the Trauma Care Assistance Revolving Fund was derived from fees and other non-tax revenues that go into the fund, and not from tobacco taxes that also go into the fund.

“Because no tax revenue was transferred, no action is necessary,” he wrote.

Doerflinger also vowed “far more scrutiny” on appropriations practices in the future.

“The procedural issues raised in these opinions are not without merit, so we will play a more active role to prevent similar concerns in the future,” Doerflinger wrote.

A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the attorney general opinions.

In crafting this year’s budget, lawmakers used an estimated $297 million from more than a dozen state agency accounts, which is far more than is traditionally used to build the budget. Among the funds raided were $100 million from a cash flow reserve fund, $25 million from the Office of Emergency Management Emergency Fund, and $12 million from a Department of Environmental Quality Revolving Fund.

“Please keep in mind that while the volume of fund transfers for (Fiscal Year) 2015 was higher than usual, the practice itself is not new,” Doerflinger wrote.

Democrats weren’t the only critics of this year’s budget. Many Republicans said the use of one-time revenues, like those from agency revolving accounts, for operational expenses was unwise.

Republican Treasurer Ken Miller, who also is an economist, said: “I continue to believe that last year’s budget was structurally deficient. I whole heartedly support Secretary Doerflinger’s commitment to build better budgets in the future.”

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy


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