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Capital City: Governor still wants more for savings

Gusty wind did not prevent continued renovation work Thursday, Jan. 25, on the Oklahoma Capitol's south side. [Photos by Thomas Maupin, For The Oklahoman]
Gusty wind did not prevent continued renovation work Thursday, Jan. 25, on the Oklahoma Capitol's south side. [Photos by Thomas Maupin, For The Oklahoman]

Good Thursday morning. 

State lawmakers should have about $574.5 million more to appropriate this session than they had last year, according to revenue estimates approved Wednesday by the State Board of Equalization.

That's about $37.8 million less than the board projected in December, but the drop was not as large as many government officials were expecting, in light of a dip in oil and natural gas prices.

Gov. Kevin Stitt called the new revenue projections "encouraging," and said it will enable him to push for the budget plan he announced previously, with a few tweaks.

Stitt said he wants to set aside $200 million for savings from the increased revenues this year, but it is likely to be a challenge persuading lawmakers to do so, especially with agencies asking for many times that amount for purposes like classroom spending, increased pay for correctional officers, hepatitis C drug treatments for inmates and higher education faculty raises.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said House Democrats want the money to be used to better fund state agencies and services.

"The House Democratic Caucus believes that every dollar of this additional revenue should be put back into agencies that have been raided in the name of high-income tax cuts and corporate greed," Virgin said.

Bill concerning county salaries advances ... A bill that would simplify calculating the salaries of county elected officials was approved Wednesday by an Oklahoma House committee. The measure, House Bill 1939, was filed in response to a state auditor's report that showed that Grady County mistakenly overpaid its elected officials by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

'Constitutional carry' bill continues to advance ... A Senate panel on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow people to carry a weapon without a permit or training. House Bill 2597, called “Constitutional Carry,” passed the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 18-4.

Minors in liquor store bill advances ... House Bill 2325, by Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, would allow minors in liquor stores if accompanied by adults. It was passed by the House floor on Wednesday, reports the Tulsa World. Parents and others have argued for some time that leaving unaccompanied children in cars outside the stores is riskier than taking them inside despite the dangers of being exposed to alcohol.

Construction funds threatened by Trump's national emergency ... Construction on $178 million facilities at Altus and Tinker Air Force bases that would provide training and maintenance for a much-heralded new aircraft could be threatened if President Donald Trump redirects these funds as part of his national emergency declaration, reports NonDoc and Gaylord News.

Up to $3.6 billion of U.S. Department of Defense military construction projects could be reallocated to build a border wall under Trump’s national emergency, according to the White House, a tactic Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-OK, has said he opposes.

'Excessive fines' ban applies to states, Supreme Court says ... On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled the Constitution's ban on excessive fines applies to the states as well as the federal government. The decision, in an opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, could help efforts to rein in police seizures of property from criminal suspects.

Reading a summary of her opinion in the courtroom, Ginsburg noted that governments employ fines "out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence" because fines are a source of revenue.

Thanks for reading. Got questions, suggestions or complaints? Email me at bfelder@oklahoman.com. 

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›