I am a member of the bicameral, bipartisan Legislative Oversight Committee for LOFT, the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency. This agency was the vision of Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, and was created through legislation approved and signed into law in 2019. LOFT and its expert staff provide in-depth, scientific data and analysis to give us an impartial look at agency finances, the efficiency of the programs your dollars fund, and recommendations that can help us eliminate duplications, identify efficiencies, and make other important recommendations to help us improve the budget process.
This past week, our committee was briefed on LOFT’s report on the state Board of Equalization (BOE). This is the entity that certifies how much money will be available for the Legislature to appropriate each year. We wanted LOFT to take a deep dive into the BOE. The Board makes its initial certification in December, which is the figure the governor uses for his executive budget recommendations on the first Monday in February. However, we are constitutionally bound to use the figures from the mid-February certification, which comes after the governor has made his recommendations. Some sessions we may use different figures to plan a budget, and that can cause problems throughout the negotiating process. We’re examining that report which also looked at the accuracy of their projections to see if we can improve this crucial part of the budget process.
In the coming weeks and months, LOFT will be presenting data on Oklahoma’s use of CARE funds, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, TSET, OHLAP, and other important areas of government.
Also, this past week, budget teams from the Senate, House and governor’s office have been in talks with the bond rating agencies, including Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch. These agencies determine bond ratings used by investment professionals to predict the likelihood the debt will be repaid. Bonds are used for capital projects, such as those repairing or modernizing transportation infrastructure or other state assets, including your Capitol building, which is undergoing a multi-year restoration project. It determines the finance rate for bonds and our ability to market them. As vice chair of Appropriations, I’ve been part of these discussions to ensure Oklahoma gets the highest rating possible.
Our appropriations subcommittees are also in the process of holding budget hearings with state agencies ahead of the upcoming session as we look at how they are using their current appropriations and they make their case for their request for Fiscal Year 2022.
In closing, I know that many of you are anxious to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. The demand has been greater than the available doses. However, additional slots for vaccinations are being added every week. If you haven’t registered on the Health Department’s website, go to www.vaccinate.oklahoma.gov to sign up. Once you have been notified that you have successfully registered and are in one of the categories currently eligible for the vaccine, you’ll need to keep checking the link they send you to make an appointment. Those who do not have internet access or are having difficulty registering can call the state’s health and human services helpline, 211, for assistance.
Please feel free to contact my Capitol office with any questions or concerns you may have about legislation or other issues impacting our state at 405.521.5628 or at Chuck.Hall@oksenate.gov.