Oklahoma City — With Monday's vote, the Oklahoma House sent a message to state agencies: Plan as if your federal funding were going to plummet by 25 percent.
To be clear, no cut that size is being debated in Washington. But Republican House Speaker T. W. Shannon's bill, which passed 70-26, directs agencies to create contingency plans to apply from this fiscal year forward in case that ever happens. The bill now moves to the Senate.
Shannon and other supporters said that as the federal government lurches from one budget showdown to the next creating contingency plans is simply a smart move. Automatic budget cuts that will trim more than $80 billion in federal spending before this September went into effect last week after Congress didn't act.
"We have a bunch of childish buffoons in Washington, D.C., who don't play well together in the sandbox," said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, who broke with many of his fellow Democrats in voting for the measure. "We don't know what's going to happen year to year now."
Oklahoma's agencies received roughly $7 billion — about 40 percent of the state's revenues — from the federal government last fiscal year, according to a report from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. And in the 2010 census, the state ranked 15th in the nation for federal dollars received per capita, with the bulk going toward health and human services.
Federal funding has been at the forefront of the current legislative session.
Gov. Mary Fallin refused to take part in a Medicaid expansion paid for by the federal government. House Democratic leader Scott Inman told his colleagues that it didn't make sense for them to support Shannon's measure while also backing Fallin's refusal of federal money for Medicaid and other programs.
"We don't need that money anyway," Inman said sarcastically, his voice rising. "But apparently the sky is falling with our state agencies. And we need to pass an unfunded mandate so they can come to grips with this loss of such important federal dollars."
Republican Rep. Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City said he also opposed the bill, calling it "nonsense."
"That discussion should be going on in the House of Representatives," he said, referring to the potential of federal cuts. "(Agencies) better be coming up with contingency plans based on whether the Legislature does its job. That's what they should be worried about."
But Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, said the bill wasn't a matter of political priorities or rhetoric.
"We have to prepare for the worst," Jordan said. "Prudence and preparation — that's really what this bill's about."