Every legislative session concludes with the discussion of the state budget, and every year this moment proves to be highly contentious in every corner of the capitol. Last year, the Governor called multiple special sessions related to the budget, in particular income tax adjustments and tribal compacts. 

The budget-making process is often the source of criticism for its lack of transparency. Whether it’s inside the capitol building, between leadership and the majority party, or in the relationship of constituents to their elected leaders, the way that a state budget is created and approved has profound implications for the political relationships that drive our state. 

This year, multiple attempts were made to create a more transparent process, but as the process is ongoing, there is still a lack of genuine transparency as well as general decorum. The end of session brings to light many of the internal squabbles typically unseen by the public, in addition to revealing how far our state still needs to develop to run a fair and equitable system.  


The Budget Process 

The typical framework of how the budget process should work contains a few steps. Agencies propose their financial needs, the Governor proposes his own budget from the executive branch, and then the legislative branch (the House and Senate) propose their own.  

Following this, we witness the current stage we are in, meetings and debates between the two branches to decide on what budget items in the form of appropriation bills will be chosen to allot the money to the varies agencies and funds.  

However, it is this final phase where the real in-fighting and ego-driven conflicts come into play.  


Fiscal Year 2025 (current budget talks)  

Usually, the budget process begins earlier in the session in subcommittee hearings that are subject to a different timeline than regular bills. However, with both chambers committing to transparency for the public, talks became much more heated earlier in the legislative session. This budget drama started in March, with the Senate publishing a spreadsheet of their budget items. Following this move, meetings were cancelled, and talks were stalled until the House procured their own numbers. The House did publish their budget proposal through an online portal. 

One problem was that the initial numbers between the two chambers had a difference of $1.1 billion. The House also included an income tax cut, which the Senate has staunchly refused after a grocery tax elimination was recently passed this past year. Furthermore, Gov. Sitt has also stated he will veto anything that comes to his desk lacking an income tax cut, siding with the House and Speaker of the House Rep. Charles McCall.  

With both chambers releasing their budgets, committee meetings continued as usual to narrow down this margin. However, now that the deadline for the end of legislative session is near, activity has ramped up.  

President Pro Tempore Greg Treat sacked Senate Appropriations and Budget Chairman Sen. Roger Thompson, who has spent a large part of his career chairing budget meetings. Following that removal came a response from Gov. Stitt on moving the budget meetings to a newer, smaller room, and requesting a summit hosted by himself. He rejected offers to hold it in the Senate Assembly Room, which would have permitted more attendees to view the discussions.  

While he guaranteed to invite the press to the new meeting, participating members excluded members of the Democratic caucus from either chamber. Sen. Minority Leader Kay Floyd and Sen. Julia Kirt were seen sitting behind the table that was dominated by male Republican lawmakers. While the summit was touted to kickstart budget talks that seemed to have slowed, Gov. Stitt homed in on his demands to cut income taxes.  

 President Pro Tempore Sen. Greg Treat, Speaker of the House Rep. Charles McCall, and Gov. Stitt continue to remain at odds on the question of income taxes and attempts to agree to a veto override in the event of a veto by Gov. Stitt. Further items of discrepancy include certain items for universities and other government agencies. 

So far, items that have agreement include pay raises for sheriffs, deputies, and jailers. The House and Senate have also agreed to $3.823 billion for the state’s common education system. Also included, especially in the wake of multiple towns hit by tornadoes, is $45 million earmarked for the state’s emergency management system.   



While budget meetings are ongoing and continued summits are called, the legislature has until May 31st to reach a conclusion. There are mixed feelings on the newer and “more transparent” budget process. Some have felt it has created more public action that could be viewed to win points for voters or power, while others feel that the public should get to witness how billions of dollars’ worth of their money is being spent. 

As of 05/22, a budget deal was reached during the summit meetings. It will now have to receive a vote in either chamber before proceeding to the Governor’s desk.  

Regardless of how one views the process, everyone should be engaged in the state budget. This is how our money is spent and how our state continues to operate and provide – or not – for its people. Budgets are moral documents that show our priorities and care for the various communities in our state. As the final, crucial part of our legislative process for the session, the budget is crucial for us all to see how our state will fare in the coming months.