- Associated Press - Saturday, January 10, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - With as many 3,000 bills filed every year and rank-and-file legislators complaining they have little input in the state budgeting process, support is growing among Republican leaders to have every other session dedicated exclusively to mapping out Oklahoma’s spending.

Last year’s proposal to send the issue to voters passed the House with bipartisan support, but was derailed in the Senate. But Republican Gov. Mary Fallin endorsed the plan during her re-election campaign, and it was one of the few things on which she and challenger Democratic state Rep. Joe Dorman agreed.

“A legitimate criticism of the process now is that the budget happens quickly at the end of session without as much debate and scrutiny as lawmakers in both parties and the governor would like,” Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said. “Specifically, we have some budget challenges as a state that aren’t going away, and the governor really wants lawmakers and our office to sink their teeth into solutions.”

Although final revenue figures haven’t been certified, the Legislature already is projected to have about $300 million less to spend on this year’s budget - a hole that could grow larger if oil prices remain depressed. Fallin also has sounded the alarm over an increasing amount of money being diverted “off the top” of the state’s main operating fund to pay for things like tax credits or transportation projects.

Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, introduced last year’s bill to send the idea of a budget-only cycle every two years to a vote, which is required to amend the Oklahoma Constitution. He said the Oklahoma Legislature used to meet only once every two years, and that he’s confident the state could get by just dealing with policy every other year.

“When I go out into the district and meet with civic groups and I ask how many people think we pass too many laws, every hand goes up,” Grau said.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said he’s open to the idea, and that he definitely wants members to take a more active role in the appropriations and budget process.

“It’s really going to take a lot of effort from the members to take the time, look deep into these agencies and get familiar with the process and how these agencies budget and spend their money,” Bingman said.

The idea doesn’t sit well with everyone. Members of the Democratic minority say with the already little input they have in the budget process, they could be completely shut out in years where they don’t have an opportunity to introduce policy measures.

“In a budget-only year, what role are we going to play? None,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. “Their constituents wouldn’t have a voice.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen. It’s too radical of an idea.”

The 2015 legislative session begins Feb. 2.


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