The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — Democrats in both the House and Senate criticized Republican House leaders Thursday for having an estimated $4 million in carry-over funds amid the state’s budget crisis.
Several Democrats aired their complaints one day after the Senate announced cost-cutting plans that include requiring its employees to take 12 furlough days before the end of the year.
“We look at it as the House has been able to stockpile this slush fund for use on things like cameras, television screens and renovated offices,” said Rep. Scott Inman, the incoming Democratic leader in the House. “For people that are looking at losing their jobs, it seems awfully frivolous.”
But House Speaker Chris Benge defended the reserves Thursday as prudent fiscal management and said the expenditures for office renovations and new equipment were made during a previous administration and before state revenues plummeted.
State lawmakers have about $1.2 billion less to spend on the state budget this year compared with last year, meaning deep cuts are likely across state agency budgets.
“I think a good manager has reserves to draw from whenever you have a downturn in revenue like we do now,” said Benge, R-Tulsa. “We have not received an increase in the last four years in our appropriation. We’ve been working to be more efficient, which is one of the reasons why we have a reserve.”
The House’s budget was cut by 7.5 percent last fiscal year, and its allocations were slashed another 7.5 percent this year as revenues slumped amid the national recession and a dip in energy prices. Benge said the number of full-time positions also has been reduced from 280 to 254 since Republicans took over the House in 2004.
But Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, said it’s hypocritical of the House to maintain such a large reserve balance when other state agencies are forced to spend carry-over funds to ease budget cuts.
“No agency has any carry-over that I’m aware of, other than the House of Representatives,” Adelson said. “If they don’t want their employees to share in the pain that all other state employees are facing, then there is a concern.”
Benge said there are no plans to furlough House employees, but that could change once the new fiscal year begins July 1.
“Once we get into the interim, we will be talking about staffing reductions,” Benge said.
The legislative session’s last day is scheduled to be May 28.
The Associated Press
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