- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A budget proposal that’ll cut about $300 million from state agencies but protect health care services is expected next week, the speaker of the Oklahoma House said Friday.

Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, did not offer details, but said the budget will be offered in time for the Legislature to adjourn by May 27 as constitutionally required.

“We’re moving in the right direction. We’re not finished,” Hickman said after the House adjourned for the weekend.

Oklahoma faces a $1.3 billion budget hole, which will be filled with money from tax code changes, the elimination of some tax credits and expected bond packages, according to Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, chairman of the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget.

“We have made the core government of this state our number one priority. Education, health care authority and other agencies that we consider … as core government will be held, if not completely harmless, it’ll be extremely low,” Sears said.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has scheduled a meeting for Monday and its agenda includes cuts of up to 25 percent for medical providers, nursing homes and mental health facilities - a move Hickman cautioned against.

“It would be very, very premature for the health care authority to make extreme cuts next week, knowing that the Legislature, the governor, have those as their top priority. I can’t imagine that would be the case,” Hickman said.

A spokeswoman for the authority did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Hickman said a proposed $1.50 per pack tax on cigarettes that had been proposed to support health care is dead for the session. A bill to raise revenue can’t be presented during the final five days of the session.

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said the past week has been frustrating, particularly the passage of a Republican-backed bill that limits the earned income tax credit, which targets lower-income wage earners.

“What you saw this week was an effort to balance the budget in the state of Oklahoma on the backs of the least among us,” Inman said. “They took $200 or $300 out of the pockets of single mothers who make $20,000 a year working at Wal-Mart.”

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