OKLAHOMA CITY — Even as Gov. Kevin Stitt inked his name on the state’s $8.8 billion budget Monday, Democratic lawmakers demanded Republicans ensure future budgeting efforts will be more transparent.
A coalition of House and Senate Democrats want their Republicans colleagues, who hold supermajorities in both legislative chambers, to allow for more public input and to include more minorities and women at the negotiating table going forward.
“We stand against a budget that was built behind closed doors, by just a few people in this building, because — let me be clear — it’s not just Democrats who are left out of the process, it’s also the vast majority of legislative Republicans,” said Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman and House minority leader.
Virgin said Oklahomans need time to provide feedback and let elected officials know how they feel about priorities in the budget.
This year, after the budget was unveiled, lawmakers were expected to vote on it just a couple of hours later, she said.
“I failed to see how anyone in this building would have been able to digest and decide whether that was good policy, whether it was good for the citizens of Oklahoma,” she said. “What you saw was just a whole lot of rubber stamping going on without any critical thinking.”
Virgin also said there were no women involved in the budget negotiation process and no minorities.
“I think that you can see that in the product that we received,” Virgin said.
She also said the priorities in the budget were not for the people of Oklahoma but favored corporations and businesses.
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said in a statement that there are more than 100 budget committee and subcommittee meetings before and during session that are public, and Democrats were fully briefed on the budget before their vote.
“Oklahomans are interested in what is in the budget, and this budget was the most comprehensive in recent memory thanks to record school funding, tax relief and transformational investments in key priorities that won it the support from the vast majority of House members elected by Oklahomans,” McCall said. “It is true Democrats did not support this or any recent budget, but we are proud of what is in it and believe Oklahomans are, too.”
Supporters note the budget bill, House Bill 2900, signed by the Republican governor includes:
• A record $3.2 billion investment in public schools and class size reductions in kindergarten and first grade.
• Reductions in the top personal income tax rate from 5% to 4.75% and cuts the corporate tax rate from 6% to 4%.
• A $42 million sales tax rebate for broadband expansion in underserved areas.
The budget also restores the refundability of the Earned Income Tax Credit while expanding Medicaid.
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said every budget process for the past nine years has been handled the same way. She said her caucus plans to run measures next year that will make the budgetary process more open and transparent.
Oklahoma is one of four states that waits as long to release a budget — Arizona, Nevada and New Jersey are the others, she said.
Floyd said lawmakers often are handed budget-related bills that are still warm because they just came off the printers. Lawmakers are then told to vote on 24 to 36 bills pertaining to education, roads, health care and corrections, she said.
“That’s no way to govern,” she said. “We cannot make responsible decisions and more importantly we can’t hear from our constituents in that period of time,” she said.
A spokesman for Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, the Senate president pro tem, did not immediately return a request for comment.