Carl’s Capitol Comments: More information on appropriated money

I gave some details of the state budget in my column last week. This week, I’ll give some additional information of the $8.8 billion the Legislature will appropriate for Fiscal Year 2022, which starts in July.

During the pandemic we set aside approximately $17 million from the ROADS Fund to be used on other core state services if needed. This year’s budget restores that funding back to that Department of Transportation fund.

The County Improvement for Roads and Bridges Fund also is made whole with an additional $20 million restored to it. This year, the Legislature is changing this fund to be more favorable to our communities by dividing it in three new ways: 1) by the size of the county; 2) by the number of miles of roads in each county; and 3) by the number of obsolete bridges in each county. This takes the population component out of the equation and gets more funding where it’s most needed not just where the densest population exists. This way our rural counties are not penalized just because we don’t have the same population as other areas. Our roads are just as crucial to us as the roads of those who live in metropolitan areas.

I discussed this last week, but this budget also gives a record amount of money to common education, $210.3 million more than the current year to a historic high of $3.2 billion overall. This will mean lower class sizes in kindergarten and first grade. The hope is that this will help us ensure that more of our students are proficient in reading and math before they advance to higher grades. This money also will help us create funding equity for districts in lower property value areas. And, we should see more per-student funding now that we’ve gotten rid of duplicate student counts in the funding formula.

We also are appropriating $2.3 million more to Rural Education Action Plan (REAP) grants taking the total for this rural assistance program to $15.5 million. Currently, this is the max funding to keep the formula which divides the fund nine different ways. If increased more than that, Oklahoma City and Tulsa would get a larger portion of the funding. Thus, this helps our rural communities with projects such as road repairs, equipment purchases, utility infrastructure and more that might otherwise go unfunded.

We appropriate $42 million to rural broadband expansion to bring internet to underserved or unserved communities. High-speed internet access is crucial for students, as we learned during the pandemic when some schools stopped in-person learning and moved to virtual. It’s helpful for those who want to access their doctors and other health care professionals via telehealth. And it helps bring more businesses and jobs to rural areas.

We also save about $800,000 in this budget, bringing state reserves back to over $1 billion. This will help us be prepared if some major event would happen that might greatly affect our economy.

We entered this year expecting as much as half-a-billion-dollar deficit. To end with a surplus is outstanding. I thank our governor and other leaders for keeping our state open and our economy running even during the pandemic.

This week, we will sine die. It will be nice to get back home to the district.

On a final note, I want to thank the governor for coming to Woodward last week. I got to introduce him, and had some fun with it by producing a bill I asked him to sign. All in fun.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. Thank you for allowing me to serve you at the State Capitol. 

You may reach me by email at carl.newton@okhouse.gov, or phone me at 405-557-7339. May God Bless you and the State of Oklahoma.

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