OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - At a time when the state is facing severe budget problems, a fund the Oklahoma House uses to pay for office furniture, computers and electronic reader boards is flush with nearly $7 million in surplus money.
Any chance lawmakers will donate the money to the state general fund to help with other uses like education and roads?
Leaders of the Republican majority that controls the House say the extra money will be needed eventually for remodeling and infrastructure repairs.
Democratic leaders see it differently.
"I'm shocked that the Republicans have that much money when it appears we may have to furlough the work force," Democratic House minority leader Danny Morgan said. "What is the House doing to tighten its work belt?"
The state general revenue from taxes is coming in about $612 million short in what is being called the worst budget year since Gov. Brad Henry was elected in 2002. The state foresees another $300 million shortfall due to less federal Medicaid match money and other recurring expenses.
Similar to state agencies, the Legislature receives state appropriations to pay its employees and operating expenses. The state House's $6.9 million surplus amounts to more than a third of its annual appropriation of $19.2 million, Office of State Finance records show.
House Speaker Chris Benge, a Tulsa Republican, said much of the money is spoken for.
House leaders say they need some of it just in case two months of special session are needed this year, which would cost $700,000. Their counterparts in the Senate have a surplus of only $211,000 for any extra needs, state records indicate.
The House is saving another $2.2 million to be used for remodeling when the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals move out of the state Capitol and into the former state historical society building, House Chief of Staff Chad Warmington said.
The money will be needed for remodeling and infrastructure repairs so that much of the space can be converted into legislative offices.
"We don't want to catch ourselves in the future not having enough to operate," Benge said.
Warmington also said the House may face a budget cut this year.
The House is having to spend more than $600,000 in increased benefit costs and retirement contributions. Another $1.7 million is to be kept in reserve for employees' accrued vacation and sick leave.
After 30 months, legislative rollovers automatically revert to the General Revenue fund. However, the lawmakers have figured out a way to prevent that from happening. They are spending their surplus funds before dipping into regular appropriations that come in monthly installments.
As of Feb. 5, the House had spent about $11 million, using up much of its rollover money from previous years.
Warmington said that when Republicans took over control of the House from Democrats in 2004, they inherited a $6 million surplus.
Over the past two fiscal years, the House spent nearly $1 million on furniture including desks, cabinets, chairs and rugs. When former House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, took office, Republicans said they found offices in disrepair including stained and ruined carpet, some desks missing legs and water stains on the walls.
They spent about $1.6 million more making other office repairs and also redoing the House lounge, although lead vendor Scott Rice Company donated the furniture. Altogether, he was paid about $2.6 million.
Despite the purchases for furniture and redoing House offices, the Republicans point out they still have about the same amount of surplus. In January 2008, it amounted to $8.7 million.
Under Benge, legislative assistants have been given raises of about $2,000 each. However, since the Republicans took over, the overall number of employees has declined by 29, said Jennifer Monies, the speaker's spokeswoman.
The House spent another $200,000 to add electronic voting boards in committee rooms.