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Oklahoma's budget impasse continues as Senate transparency process slows down agreements on key issues

Jackie Fortier
StateImpact Oklahoma

State budget discussions in the Oklahoma legislature are lagging. As lawmakers discuss the line-item minutiae in their subcommittees and the big-picture priorities alongside the governor, disagreements remain on a handful of key issues and the end of session draws near.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat laid out a few expectations ahead of Monday’s historic state budget summit with House Speaker Charles McCall, Governor Kevin Stitt and other House and Senate leaders. But one stood out:

I want to be abundantly clear that our subcommittees will not be cut out of this process,” Treat said. “Our subcommittees will be back in control of their own budgets. We will take back what we learned today to those subcommittees.”

Legislative subcommittees are teams of lawmakers nailing down the nitty-gritty details of state spending during public meetings. They make budget proposals based on input from state agency heads and statutory requirements.

Treat insists each area of disagreement is discussed in its corresponding public forum, rather than behind closed doors, as is typically done to expedite budget making. “Any agreements that were made behind closed doors were not agreements,” Treat said.

But his commitment to what he calls a more transparent process means little progress on actual budgetary agreements, as Senate subcommittee members stuck to their original positions on most key issues following their May 7 meetings.

Here are some key takeaways from Senate subcommittee discussions Tuesday, starting with one appropriation both chambers agree on:

Aerospace and Aeronautics

The general government budget subcommittee pushed $41 Million for the Department of Aerospace and Aeronautics to the Senate’s main Appropriations and Budget Committee. The amount meets the agency’s request and is meant to jumpstart airport infrastructure upgrades across rural Oklahoma. According to the House's Budget Transparency Portal, the Senate and the House are aligned here.

Grayson Ardies, executive director of the state’s aerospace department, told subcommittee members his agency thoroughly reviewed Oklahoma’s 108 airports between 2019 and 2022 and identified a need for robust upgrades – particularly in rural towns – if airports are to remain safe, accessible and qualified for continued state and federal funding.

“A lot of our airports trace their history back to World War II or shortly thereafter,” Ardies said. “We need to be able to do better to ensure for the next 20 years that the transportation network is going to be doing what it’s supposed to.”

Within the $41 million are eight rural projects and one in Oklahoma City, each with a dollar amount between $4 million and $6.5 million. They include everything from an airport relocation in Atoka to redesigning runways in Watonga and Pawhuska and building larger hangars for certain airplanes in Oklahoma City.

Ardies said the proposed projects would be transformational for Oklahoma’s small towns.

“These are something that people would look back on 15, 20, 30, 40 years from now and go, ‘man, I remember that time in 2024 when this happened,’” he said. “If we went and spent $41 million at Tulsa International or Will Rogers World Airport, chances are five years from now, no one would recognize it.”

When concerns about costs to maintain the new infrastructure arose among lawmakers, Ardies said it would pay for itself over time. The new airports and runways will also come with more industry-related businesses and tourism.


Lawmakers in the two chambers are about $130 million apart on common and higher education funding.

Senate leaders want to pay for public school support staff stipends, bonuses for psychologists, speech pathologists and audiologists and relief for career tech waiting lists across the state.

Both chambers want to pay for the state education department’s maternity leave revolving fund, grant money appropriations for the Arts Council and upgrades for the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority.

Sen. Adam Pugh chairs his chamber’s education budget subcommittee. One thing he wanted to make clear to fellow members is his commitment to Treat’s transparency process. He said verbal agreements, even ones at the ongoing budget summits, don’t matter unless they are also agreed on in subcommittees.

“It starts or stops in the subcommittee,” Pugh said. “So what they said does not matter if the subcommittee hasn't agreed to it. And that's our process.”

Public Safety and Judicial

The House and Senate are aligned on most Department of Public Safety appropriations, including an injection for a new Oklahoma State Highway Patrol training center. The exception, according to the portal, is the $8.3 million the Senate wants to give the Department of Corrections via Senate Bill 142, which would relaunch the prison rodeo in McAlester.The Senate is vying to appropriate millions for recruitment and retention efforts within the District Attorney’s Council and pay raises and IT infrastructure improvements across courts and judicial agencies.

House Speaker McCall said he agrees with ensuring proper funding of law enforcement and courts but expressed hesitancy to go along with pay raises for government officials without an income tax cut.

“The people of the State of Oklahoma need to get a pay raise too, through a tax cut,” McCall said. “The House budget will allow for a quarter percent cut. I don't think that's too much to ask.”

Lawmakers have until May 31 to pass a state budget and conclude the legislative session.

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Lionel Ramos covers state government at KOSU. He joined the station in January 2024.
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