Murphey Legislative Update
This week I was provided with a copy of the latest version of the proposed state budget also known as Senate Bill 334. This bill will contain the majority of the budget agreement recently reached between legislative leaders and the Governor.
The 45 page bill proposes to spend over 6.9 billion of our tax dollars as part of the fiscal year 2008 state budget. This budget will expand the size of state government base appropriations by $377 million dollars, or about 5.7% more than last year's bas appropriation of 6.5 billion dollars. If you have read budget related news stories or caught the sound bytes on television, you may find this statement confusing.
State leaders have said that one of the key successes of the 2008 budget proposal is that it actually shrinks the size of government a small amount. While government base appropriations are higher in the 2008 budget, the amount of excess money from the previous year (referred to as spill over money) is less, and the government does not have as much extra money to spend in addition to base appropriations. When base appropriations and spill over money are accounted for, the government will spend 7.188 billion dollars this year compared to 7.196 billion last year. Thus the government will in fact spend 8 million dollars less this year than last year.
While I am certainly happy about the reduction in spending, I still believe there is a tremendous amount of inappropriate spending in the proposed budget. One of my greatest concerns is a section requested by Governor Henry which would allow for additional bonded indebtedness of the Oklahoma Higher Education system by about 50 million dollars. The good news about this proposal is that it is only a fraction of the 663 million dollars of debt requested in Henry's initial budget. However, I have stated my opposition to incurring any new indebtedness. If we are serious about rolling back big government and enacting important pro-growth reforms such as eliminating state income tax, the issue of big government debt is not one we can ignore. Reducing the size of government is difficult enough because of past inappropriate spending by state politicians and new debt simply adds to this problem.
Henry's demand appears to have been at the core of his negotiations. It appears that legislative leadership gave in to the demand in return for the Governor's support of legislative tax cuts and such issues as the audit of the Department of Corrections.
In upcoming days, the House will not only consider Senate Bill 334 but will also vote on a number of individual agency appropriations bills. These votes will give us an opportunity to reflect the desires of our constituents who are for smaller government. I intend to vote no on a number of agency bills that are either too large or altogether inappropriate functions of government, and will certainly vote against attempts to incur new debt.
I have been encouraged by the stance on streamlining government taken by house leadership. House Speaker Lance Cargill recently released the following statement. "The bottom line is that many state agencies are duplicating what other parts of state government do. I'm sure the defenders of the status quo will fight our efforts, but Oklahoma's state government has simply grown too large. There are nearly 100 state agencies, and the average citizen must confront an alphabet's soup of acronyms and confusing red tape. That's not serving the taxpayers well. Oklahoma can do better."
The Speaker authored House Bill 2110 to create a BRAC-style commission that will provide recommendations on consolidating state agencies and ending outdated functions. This bill passed the House by a large margin but was killed in Senate committee.
It is my hope that in future budget years, the legislature will not maintain the present size of government, but shrink it significantly.