- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A plan to dedicate every other legislative session exclusively to crafting a state budget is picking up momentum in the Legislature this year, with Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman writing a bill to send the issue to a vote of the people.

Bingman, R-Sapulpa, says he wants members to spend more time researching the budgets of state agencies and carefully scrutinizing how roughly $7 billion in taxpayer money is spent on various programs.

“You talk about $7 billion that we actually appropriate - that’s a lot of money,” Bingman said. “And just to spend as little time as we do in some of these budget hearings, I would think that spending a whole session would give members the opportunity to really delve into it and learn a lot more and ask questions, and become more knowledgeable about why certain items or funded.”

The issue has been brought up before, and a proposal in the House last year passed on a bipartisan 70-18 vote before failing to get a hearing in the Senate. House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman, R-Fairview, voted for the bill. Gov. Mary Fallin and her Democratic legislator opponent in last year’s governor’s race breathed new life into the idea when both touted the benefits on the campaign trail.

Fallin threw her support behind the idea again in her State of the State speech last week, saying it would place more emphasis on their primary obligation of writing a budget and give more legislators a chance to participate in the process.

Currently, the budget is hammered out in three-way negotiations between the top leaders in the House, Senate and governor’s office. A final agreement typically emerges in the last weeks of session.

Under Bingman’s proposal, the Legislature would write a budget every year, but only deal with bills on various policy issues during odd-numbered years. This would free up time for legislators to learn more about the state’s complicated budget process.

“Instead of maybe having a 30-minute sit down with an agency, you could spend a week going in-depth,” Bingman said.

A similar measure by state Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, has been introduced in the House and is scheduled for a hearing in a committee next week, and House Democratic Leader Rep. Scott Inman says he supports the idea.

Under both proposals, the Legislature could pass non-budget bills during a budget-only session, but only with a two-thirds vote under Bingman’s plan or three-fourths support under Grau’s.

Because the change would require an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution, both measures would put the proposal on the ballot for a public vote.

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Senate Joint Resolution 30: https://bit.ly/1AAR1tJ

House Joint Resolution 1001: https://bit.ly/1C1f7ZP

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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