OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Revenue collections continue to climb as Oklahoma emerges from an economic recession, but the Legislature still will have a $167 million hole to fill in next year's budget because of increasing obligations, according to figures a key state budget panel approved Tuesday.
The Board of Equalization, led by Gov. Mary Fallin, authorized $7 billion for the Legislature to spend on the new fiscal year that begins July 1. That's an increase of $104 million over what was appropriated on the current year's budget. But Fallin noted that increase doesn't include about $270 million in new obligations for next year, including $110 million to cover a loss of federal funding for the state's two medical schools.
Fallin also said she expects to sign a general appropriations bill for the current fiscal year that includes across-the-board cuts to all state agencies, including public schools. That bill, approved in the House on Monday, came after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on a plan to increase taxes on cigarettes, motor fuel and energy production to fund a $5,000 teacher pay hike and help stabilize the budget.
Fallin, who supported the tax plan, placed blame on the House Democrats who opposed it, although more than a dozen Republicans also voted no. Many Democrats have insisted any tax plan restore recent cuts to the income tax and the gross production tax on oil and natural gas.
"We've been dealing with them for 54 weeks," Fallin said of House Democrats, whose votes would be needed to reach the three-fourth's majority needed to pass a tax hike. "After more than a year, you'd think they could find something they agree upon."
The governor said her optimism is fading that the Republican-led Legislature will approve any significant tax increase, but that she's been discussing options with House Speaker Charles McCall that could generate revenue by eliminating some tax exemptions. Those proposals would require only a 51-vote majority in the House and could generate enough money to pay for a more modest teacher pay hike, Fallin said.
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