Oklahoma moves from one year's deficit to the next

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DALLAS – As Oklahoma lawmakers near an agreement to close a lingering revenue gap in the current fiscal year, they will face the job of closing their sixth consecutive budget shortfall in the next fiscal year beginning July 1.

The estimated $167 million shortfall for the 2019 fiscal year is small compared to the $900 million shortfall in 2017, but the state has yet to create a structurally balanced budget. The lack of structural balance is a factor in the negative outlook that Moody’s Investors Service assigns to Oklahoma’s Aa2 rating.

To balance the budget for the next fiscal year, lawmakers must cut $167.8 million, find one-time revenue or raise new revenue, according to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

Lawmakers will have $5.88 billion to spend in the next budget, according to the estimates.

The current fiscal year’s budget has been unbalanced since August, when a state Supreme Court ruling struck down a tax on cigarettes as unconstitutional. To rebalance the budget, lawmakers have been trying in a series of special sessions to combine cuts and new revenue.

On Monday, the state House voted 67-24 to cut spending by another $44.7 million, closing the gap four months before the end of the fiscal year.

House Bill 1020 requires nearly every state agency to cut about 2% from their budgets through June 30. For the financially strapped Department of Education, the cut comes to $16.2 million.

The Department of Corrections, which is already facing a crisis over a shortage of prison guards, will have to find $3.19 million to cut from its original fiscal year 2018 budget.

Other cuts include $6.8 million from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, $2.16 million from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and $4.64 million from the Department of Human Services.

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