Oklahoma House

The Oklahoma House of Representatives announced Friday that some of its annual budget committee hearings will be held in a fashion aimed at increasing participation among legislators and awareness among the public.

We think it’s a good move.

From a press release sent from House Speaker-elect Charles McCall’s office:

The Oklahoma House of Representatives will begin holding public hearings to review the five largest appropriated state agencies’ budgets next week at the state Capitol.

Those five agencies received $5.36 billion – or 77 percent – of the $6.91 billion FY – 2017 appropriated budget.

… McCall said the hearings will give citizens and lawmakers — particularly the 32 new members of the House — valuable insight into how agencies develop programs and spend taxpayer dollars and will help lawmakers develop funding priorities earlier than usual.

The hearings will be a departure from previous agency budget hearings, in that all 101 members of the House are invited to attend and participate. The hearings will be held in the House Chamber, and the public is encouraged to attend and watch the proceedings from the Chamber gallery.

Traditionally, a chamber’s budget hearings are mostly formality. Agency leaders or representatives offer small committees a glimpse at their budgetary constraints and their hopes and dreams. Agency directors discuss what they “need” for the next year, and they usually offer a list of other wonderful things they could accomplish with funding increases.

Over the past several years, those wish lists have been relatively pointless, as everyone knows going into session that there is no extra money. Like last year, lawmakers in 2017 will actually have an enormous budget hole to fill just to keep agency funding flat.

As a result, these hearings serve more as a chance for agencies to beg against further cuts, and the five large agencies who will present to the full House chamber this year are among the agencies who may paint the dimmest, darkest picture.

According to the press release from the speaker’s office, those agencies will present on the following days, with all meetings scheduled for 9 a.m. starts:

Wednesday, Jan. 4 — Oklahoma Department of Education

Thursday, Jan. 5 — Oklahoma Department of Transportation

Friday, Jan. 6 — Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education

Monday, Jan. 9 — Oklahoma Department of Human Services

Tuesday, Jan. 10 — Oklahoma Health Care Authority

That means legislators and the public will get a heavy dose of discussion at the start of the 2017 session about teacher pay, school funding, road and bridge projects, university tuition, DHS programs and Medicaid.

Each of those topics falls under what even Republican lawmakers like to call “core government services,” and each area has seen substantial cuts during this decade.

We hope that the decision by Speaker McCall (R-Atoka) means more legislators than ever will learn the needs, duties and virtues of Oklahoma’s top state agencies.