The Senate this week reached the deadline for passing legislation out of committees, with hundreds of measures moving beyond this first legislative hurdle. However, the most important news of the week came in the announcement that the Governor and leaders of the House and Senate had reached an agreement on the state’s budget for the 2010 fiscal year.
Reaching agreement in the midst of a crisis can be challenging, but I’m pleased we were able to forge consensus on a conservative budgeting approach that preserves a majority of our Rainy Day Fund for future needs, while protecting core state services.
The agreement uses less than half of the state’s rainy day fund to fill gaps caused by the state’s budget surplus. The remainder of the budget shortfall will be filled with federal stimulus dollars wisely reserved by legislative leaders last year, along with other state funds and revenue generated by previously announced budget cuts to state agencies. The proposal also moves additional Rainy Day funds to the state’s Special Cash account. If necessary the funds may be used to offset any potential budget shortfall in the 2011 fiscal year.
Most importantly, the agreement directs additional state funds to prevent trooper furloughs and ease cuts for health care, education and corrections. $3 million in emergency funding will help the Department of Public Safety avoid planned layoffs for troopers. More than $54 million in supplemental funding for public schools will help minimize the impact of monthly budget cuts.
Some $33 million in supplemental funding to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, combined with federal health care money, will help prevent significant rate cuts to providers throughout the state. The Health Care Authority was scheduled to reduce Medicaid reimbursement rates to doctors, nursing homes and hospitals by 6.75 percent. With this additional funding, the rate cut is expected to be as low as 3.25 percent.
With economic indicators suggesting the state will recover slowly from the current recession, it was important that we set aside reserves for next year. This agreement allows us to preserve core services while reserving funds for future state budgets. This is an important step forward for a Legislature that will face many difficult decisions as our economy continues toward recovery. I’m pleased legislative leaders from both parties were able to craft such a conservative, balanced and responsible proposal.
In other legislative news, I was pleased that several of my proposals were approved by Senate committees this week. Senate Bill 2043 properly codifies the Oklahoma Life and Health Guaranty Association Act, and protects personal information by claimants from the private market. Senate Bill 2044 makes the same adjustment to the Oklahoma Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association Act.
Senate Bill 2046 would authorize insurance companies within the state to sell coverage plans across state lines, and would allow for out-of- state companies to operate in Oklahoma. Additionally, companies working outside the state would not be subject to Oklahoma regulation. This measure will help bring competition and choice to the state and ultimately result in reduced prices for consumers.
Senate Bill 2054 will allow the Insurance Commissioner to file documents electronically, reducing costs and waste. Senate Bill 2240 would lower the legal social hosting age from 21 years of age to 18 years of age and establishes a penalty of up to one year in prison or a maximum fine of $500 for a first offense.
As always, I welcome your comments on state government. Please feel free to contact me by writing to 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Room 413A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105; call me at (405) 521-5602.