OKLAHOMA CITY — It would be difficult to give education a flat budget without devastating other agencies, House Speaker Jeff Hickman said Tuesday.
His comments to reporters came as the House Republican caucus met behind closed doors to discuss the state’s revenue failure for the current fiscal year and the upcoming fiscal year 2017 budget, which will be at least $900.8 million less than fiscal year 2016’s.
The revenue failure resulted in 3 percent budget cuts to state-appropriated agencies. The state Board of Education recently voted to reduce school budgets by $47 million as a result.
“Fifty-one cents of every dollar we spend is on education,” said Hickman, R-Fairview. “So when they are 51 percent of our budget and a third of that is just common education alone, there is no possible way that I see to be able to do what we did last year, which is to shield education from any budget cuts.”
With a minimum of $900.8 million less to spend in crafting the fiscal year 2017 budget, Hickman said he didn’t know how the state could spend the same amount on education.
“You will devastate state government if you have to make deep cuts to corrections, mental health, DHS (Department of Human Services) in order to move those dollars to education, and that would be the only way to do it,” Hickman said.
The state has already made deep cuts to state agencies since 2007, he noted.
Hickman said the Oklahoma Department of Corrections may not be able to handle additional cuts. It is one critical area where some adjustments may have to be made, he said.
In addition, the Corporation Commission might also need additional dollars to handle the monitoring of injection wells, he said. The wells have been linked to Oklahoma’s increasing number of earthquakes.
Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Feb. 1 to start the legislative session.
The state’s Rainy Day Fund has slightly more than $385 million, of which $144.4 million could be accessed to cover the revenue failure for the current fiscal year, according to the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Given the shortfall for the fiscal year 2017 budget, Hickman said he thought lawmakers would be hesitant to tap the Rainy Day Fund to cushion cuts taken in the current fiscal year.
The state’s economic downturn has been attributed to reduced oil and gas prices. But a Jan. 1 drop in the state’s top income tax rate to 5 percent from 5.25 percent is also contributing.
At least one measure has been filed to roll back the tax cut, but Hickman said he believes that under the provisions of State Question 640, such a move would require a super majority in both legislative chambers.
State Question 640 was approved by voters in 1992 and requires that tax increases receive a supermajority vote in both chambers or go to a vote of the people.
“Oklahomans are already seeing that reflected in their paycheck,” Hickman said.
However, an additional planned drop to 4.85 percent could be modified because it has yet to take effect, Hickman said.