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State legislators approve budget and react to scheduled pay raise for lawmakers

Oklahoma State Capitol
Posted at 8:13 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 06:00:54-04

Legislators approve nearly $238 million in cuts to the 2020-2021 budget as a big pay raise is looming for lawmakers in the next session.

While lawmaker salaries are not decided on the legislative floor the idea that they will get a 35% increase come November isn’t sitting well with voters during talks of the budget.

The cuts to state agencies come amid a massive predicted budget shortfall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Broken Arrow state Senator Nathan Dahm did not vote to approve the recent budget measure.

"We should be looking at how we're spending taxpayer money. We should be focusing on reforms. Haven't seen a whole lot of those reforms that I'd like to see being accomplished rather than focusing on spending the money which kind of seemed to be the focus," Sen. Dahm said.

Catoosa representative and House Majority Whip Terry O'Donnell voted in favor of the budget.

"This budget is really artwork because we've done everything we can to protect our priorities which are clearly common education and education as a whole in this state. So, I felt like we'd done a really good job pulling money back to education and protecting that area and some modest cuts to other state agencies," Rep. O'Ddonnell said.

The white elephant in the room during talks about budget cuts and funding measures is the pay raise scheduled to go into effect for lawmakers in November.

The raise was voted on last year by the Legislative Compensation Board that sets those salaries.

The board and it's objective are written into the Oklahoma constitution.

"The legislature has no control over the salary schedule. We don't set it. It's an independent board that does that, and in the past, they've cut legislator salary and they've increased it last year as you mentioned, but we don't have any control or input over that. I know people think we do, but we don't have any involvement in that," Sen. Dahm said.

"I think this is the first raise in about 20 years, but as far as that goes, even if we were to pull that back that doesn't necessarily mean it could go toward other projects," Rep. O'Donnell said.

Viewers were outraged on social media over legislators getting a pay raise while so many Oklahomans are struggling financially due to the economic impact of COVID-19.

Scott Mitchell is on the Legislative Compensation Board, which is comprised of citizens appointed by legislators and the governor.

Mitchell voted on the pay raise last year.

"The board was acting with the best data that you could possibly have with no forethought as to we were about to see the worst pandemic in a century and the single most devastating economic occurrence in the last century. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. We probably would be doing something different at this point, but so would everybody else." Mitchell said.

Mitchell says at the time of the vote, the data showed that legislators in Oklahoma were not being paid at the level that they should be.

However, he wants to remind people how the raise works.

"Nobody in this legislature got a raise, not one. This legislative package only goes into effect for the next legislature," Mitchell said.

Mitchell also reminds voters that if they don't think their current lawmaker deserves that scheduled pay raise to vote them out come November.

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