- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - More than half of Oklahoma’s $611 million shortfall in next year’s budget will be plugged with mostly one-time sources of revenue, limiting the steepest cuts to agency budgets to about 7.25 percent, the House’s top budget writer said Tuesday.

House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Earl Sears said “well over half” of the $611 million hole will be filled with revenue from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, Unclaimed Property Fund, agency revolving accounts and other sources.

Sears said the final details still are being worked out with negotiators from the Senate and the governor’s office, but that an agreement could be announced as early as Friday.

“Our biggest obstacle has been identifying … what pools of money and revenue sources we can all agree upon that we want to use,” said Sears, R-Bartlesville. “We all three have different numbers.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Clark Jolley, the Senate’s chief budget negotiator, confirmed that more than half of the $611 million hole will be filled with one-time sources of revenue and money from cash reserves.

Jolley, R-Edmond, said agreements also have been reached on how much to cut from numerous state agency budgets, “but the devil is really in the details on a lot of the bigger agencies that represent a huge amount of the state budget.”

Lawmakers also are looking to target some of the direct apportionments, or “off-the-top” money that is diverted from the state’s General Revenue Fund. Among those Sears and Jolley said is likely to be targeted is the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges, or CIRB fund, which receives money from motor vehicle taxes.

Sears also said he expects K-12 schools to either be held harmless or receive the smallest cut of any state agency, while both higher education and the state’s career and technology centers will see some level of cuts. But Jolley said he wasn’t prepared to say common education would see the smallest cut.

“There’s an agreement there are several agencies we’d like to shield, and common ed is one of them, but common ed is not the king of all agencies,” Jolley said.

Oklahoma’s public schools receive the largest share of the state’s budget, about $2.4 billion out of last year’s $7.1 billion budget.

But despite the budget hole, Jolley, Sears and Gov. Mary Fallin all said Tuesday they do not support rolling back a reduction in the state’s personal income tax from 5.25 percent to 5 percent that is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1. That cut is expected to cost the state $57 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, and $147 million annually after that.

Democrats have been calling all session for Republican leaders to delay the tax cut, and a group of more than 90 Oklahoma businesses, foundations and nonprofit groups sent a letter to Fallin and GOP leaders on Tuesday asking them to stop the cut from taking effect. But the governor disagreed.

“I think giving taxpayers relief is always an important goal for the state of Oklahoma,” Fallin said, “and it was a measured tax cut.

“If we track back through the decades of when we have had tax cuts in the state of Oklahoma, gradual tax cuts, we’ve always seen our economy turn and grow more revenue.”

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy


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