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After weeks of negotiating, the Oklahoma governor and legislative leaders last week finally unveiled a fix for the devastated 2010 state budget. Now, work begins on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that looks to be even worse.
Lawmakers learned last week they have about $5.4 billion to spend on the fiscal year 2011 budget that begins July 1. That amount is $1.2 billion less than they appropriated last year and likely will result in major cuts across state programs.
"It's going to be very, very difficult," said state Sen. Mike Johnson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Johnson commented Thursday after the House and Senate approved several bills to use a combination of federal stimulus money and cash from the state's Rainy Day Fund to help plug a $669 million hole in this year's budget. The rest of the shortfall was closed by across-the-board cuts to agency budgets that averaged 7.5 percent over the fiscal year.
The agreement unveiled late Thursday also provided supplemental funding to prevent trooper furloughs and ease cuts for education, health care and prisons.
And while lawmakers still have some Rainy Day funds and federal stimulus money left over to help reconcile next year's massive budget shortfall, there inevitably will be deeper cuts without new sources of revenue.
"As we use this money to stabilize the 2010 budget ... that just makes the hole for 2011 that much bigger," Johnson said. "We're going to have to find revenue enhancements to help offset the costs."
While no one is talking about tax increases, lawmakers appear willing to look at other revenue enhancement ideas, including fee increases for state services, bond issues and the elimination of tax breaks.
As Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee said: "Everything is on the table."