Overview of the Oklahoma Appropriations Process
The state fiscal year begins July 1 and ends on June 30 (Fiscal Year 1997, or FY '97, refers to the period from July 1, 1996 through June 30, 1997). The appropriations process for a particular fiscal year begins in September of the prior year. During that month, Oklahoma's 123 agencies submit budget requests to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services and the Legislature. Through these requests, made in a prescribed format, agencies suggest their appropriations levels, outline their plans for spending all types of funds, and submit data on performance measurements. The governor proposes executive budget recommendations on the first day of each legislative session. The Oklahoma Constitution mandates that each fiscal year's budget be balanced. The appropriations committee of each house, working in subcommittees, each session reviews the agency requests and governor's recommendations. The Legislative Session begins on the first Monday in February and must end by the last Friday in May. A General Appropriations (GA) bill is often enacted in mid-session to provide base budgets of all agencies. Legislative decision-making on incremental changes to budgets, however, does not begin in earnest until April, several months after the session convenes.
The Equalization Board is charged with certifying amounts of all revenues available for legislative appropriation in a given year. The board consists of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, State Treasurer, State Auditor and Inspector, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and President of the Agriculture Board. The board is staffed by the Office of State Finance with support provided by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. As a safeguard against revenue shortfalls, the Oklahoma Constitution states that appropriations cannot exceed 95% of projected revenues (the remaining 5% is held in reserve during the fiscal year, and made available for appropriation as cash at the beginning of the next fiscal year). The board meets between 35-45 days prior to each session for preliminary certification of funds. It meets again in February to update revenue estimates and finalize the Legislature's appropriation authority. That meeting triggers the beginning of the end of the Legislative budgeting process. (The board can make further adjustments to its February estimate later in the session based on laws enacted during the session).
Once the amount of appropriation authority is set by the board, the Legislature begins refining its priorities to reflect the limited monies available. Final spending decisions by the Legislature are made by the General Conference Committee on Appropriations, or GCCA. GCCA is structured much like the standing appropriations committees of each house, with subcommittees responsible for a group of agencies that perform similar functions. A key distinction of the GCCA is that its membership consists of House and Senate members. The two houses negotiate spending priorities and produce a unified budget -- the recommendations of GCCA. The first step of GCCA is that the House and Senate leadership come to agreement on how much of the total budget pie is allocated to broad areas, such as the education subcommittee or the public safety subcommittee. This agreement is known as subcommittee allocations. Once these amounts are set, GCCA subcommittees begin negotiating on making the numbers fit the accumulated needs identified by agencies within each subcommittee. These needs invariably are in excess of monies available. Once GCCA subcommittees finalize, or "sign out," a particular agency budget, appropriations staff of each house draft the recommendations into the form of an appropriations bill. An appropriation bill normally contains the budget recommendations for the budgets of up to six agencies, grouped by policy area. The bill is presented to the full House GCCA and full Senate GCCA, which typically congregate separately. If approved on a recorded vote by the full GCCA, the bill is forwarded to the full Senate and House for consideration. If approved by a majority of both houses, the appropriations bill is sent to the Governor. During a legislative session, the Governor is given five working days to enact or veto all or part of the bill (Oklahoma's Governor has authority to "line-item veto" part of appropriations bills). After session adjourns sine die, the Governor has 15 working days to sign or veto a bill; no action by the Governor constitutes a "pocket veto" of the legislation.
Following Up: Interim Decisions on the State's Budget
Once a budget is enacted into law, each agency submits a budget work program (BWP) for the coming fiscal year to OSF, which can reject a BWP if it exceeds spending caps or otherwise does not reflect the intent of legislation. Once an agency BWP is approved, any changes to categories or amounts of expenditures must be approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on Budget and Program Oversight. Statutes restrict total percentages that can be transferred from one category to another within an agency. The Contingency Review Board is authorized to make limited changes to agency budgets when the Legislature in not in session, a period known as the interim. Enacted spending limits, which serve as caps on spending of appropriated and other funds (revolving and/or federal funds), can be exceeded if approved by majority vote of the CRB, composed of the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore.