Oklahoma speaker-elect: House Republicans plan budget hearings for state agencies

Oklahoma speaker-elect: House Republicans plan budget hearings for state agencies

By State Rep. Charles A. McCall

Have you ever watched a mother shopping for groceries? If you paid attention, you probably noticed two things: first, she spent time deliberating over items as she perused the aisles and, second, she invariably removed items from her cart as she added new items.

This mother was making value choices about how to spend her money — choices that involve trade-offs in allocating resources. Like most Oklahomans, she probably has a set budget and must make hard choices about how to spend her family’s money.

And like a good mother at the grocery store, taxpayers expect legislators at the state Capitol to be good stewards of the dollars we have been entrusted with. Likewise, Republicans in the House of Representatives expect state agencies to be accountable and efficient with the taxpayer dollars they are appropriated.

To that end, House Republicans are doubling our efforts toward crafting a transparent state budget that reflects Oklahoma values for fiscal year 2018.

Before the 2017 session begins in February, we are scheduling budget hearings for the top five appropriated state agencies to present an overview of their various programs and budget needs. In FY 17, these five agencies received $5.36 billion — or 77 percent — of the $6.91 billion appropriated by the Legislature.

These hearings will take place in the House chamber, allowing every member of the House to attend and ask questions. In addition, the public will be encouraged to attend. When hearings are scheduled, a meeting notice with the date and time will be added to the House website at www.okhouse.gov.

These hearings will give lawmakers — particularly the 32 new members of the 101-member House — valuable insight into how agencies develop programs and spend taxpayer dollars, but most importantly, they will give us the ability to develop funding priorities earlier than usual.

Whether adequately funding essential services, providing our teachers a well-deserved pay raise or addressing critical infrastructure and public safety needs, lawmakers must responsibly navigate another year of declining revenues.

Like last year when the Legislature faced a $1.3 billion budget gap caused by declining oil and gas revenues, legislators will be dealing with a budget shortfall in 2017 of at least $600 million.

At the end of the day, every dollar we spend comes out of taxpayers’ pockets. House Republicans take that very seriously.

Oklahoma’s future economic and job growth depends on a healthy, educated and well-trained workforce, on a tax and regulatory climate that is attractive to job creators and that lets citizens keep more of their money, on a limited and responsible social safety net that helps people get back on their feet, and on safe communities that families want to live and work in.

As we deliberate over the budget during the coming months, I trust we will approach this process like the diligent mother in the grocery store, thoughtfully weighing each request, adding and removing options from our cart until we have a budget that stays within our means and moves us toward a better Oklahoma.

McCall, R-Atoka, is set to become speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives for the session that begins Feb. 6.

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