Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan Thursday praised the Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations agreement reached by legislative leaders this week as a “responsible budget that meets the obligations of the state and prioritizes the use of our resources.”
Morgan, D-Stillwater, said the agreement represented a “current services budget” which will ensure that state agencies can continue to provide the services Oklahomans count on in their daily lives.
Education, health care and public safety, the Senate leader said, remain at the top of that list.
“Senate Democrats have always put education at the front of the line and our Fiscal Year 2008 budget maximizes the dollars appropriated to our public schools, CareerTech system and our colleges and universities,” Morgan said.
Morgan said that under the agreement public schools will be receiving a $60 million supplemental appropriation to cover costs associated with last year’s $3,000 teacher pay raise and rising health insurance costs.
Additionally, education funding will increase by nearly $150 million in FY 2008. As part of the agreement, teachers will receive another pay increase designed to move them closer to the regional average. Funding is also included to cover the cost of increased teacher benefits associated with the raise.
The agreement leaves approximately $66 million for lawmakers to appropriate later in the session as they reach consensus on other spending priorities. Morgan said his priorities include finding a solution for the under funded Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System; health care coverage for more children through passage of the All Kids Act; and passage of a dedicated funding source for the Oklahoma’s Promise Scholarship Program.
The Senate leader said a lot of people expected gridlock when the elections left the Senate with an even number of Democrats and Republicans. Morgan said he wasn’t one of them.
“I never had a doubt that we would reach an agreement on the budget and that our power-sharing agreement would work,” Morgan said. “While there are still major issues to be decided in this legislative session, we have completed our most important task by working together.”
Morgan, the chief senate budget negotiator in 2003 and 2004, praised the work of Senate Appropriations Co-Chairmen Johnnie Crutchfield, D-Ardmore, and Mike Johnson, R-Kingfisher, along with House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Chris Benge, R-Tulsa.
“Senator Coffee and Speaker Cargill deserve a lot of credit, too. Nobody got everything they wanted, but together we addressed each other’s interests. Our negotiations were never about scoring political points. We balanced our differing fiscal philosophies and remained focused on crafting the best budget for the people of Oklahoma,” Morgan said.