Oklahoma Farm Bureau discussed the top provisions in the state budget for agriculture and rural Oklahoma with the House Appropriations and Budget Committee Vice Chair Kyle Hilbert during a recent Lincoln to Local episode.
After announcing its more than $8 billion budget agreement on May 13, state legislators this week sent the four dozen budget bills to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk for approval.
The budget includes several benefits for agriculture and rural Oklahoma including dollars for broadband expansion, meat inspectors, Oklahoma State University Extension, county roads and bridges and more.
$42 million for broadband expansion
Signaling a commitment to bringing high-speed internet to more Oklahomans, the state Legislature approved $42 million to provide sales tax rebates for equipment used to establish or expand broadband in underserved and unserved areas of the state.
Broadband expansion was a priority for the Oklahoma House of Representatives this year and “something very exciting we’ve delivered on with the $42 million rebate through sales tax to help encourage companies to build out these broadband areas,” Hilbert said.
Hilbert said he likens the need for broadband expansion in rural areas of the state to rural electrification nearly a century ago.
“While it’s not quite that extreme with broadband, I think it’s a good analogy of what we’re seeing today: those that do have access to the 21st century and those that don’t,” he said.
Hilbert said he is excited to see Oklahoma’s progress on broadband expansion after combining the new rebate program and the $2 billion in federal dollars for broadband from a recent pandemic relief package.
$300,000 for state meat inspectors
Following supply chain interruptions over the past year, the state Legislature allocated $300,000 to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to hire additional meat inspectors to improve processing capacity in the state.
“For those of you that are trying to get beef cattle butchered – or any animal for that matter – it’s been very challenging in the last year,” Hilbert said. “A lot of that stems back to the lack of meat inspectors in the state.”
Hilbert said the provision goes hand-in-hand with Gov. Stitt’s grants last year to help processing facilities expand.
ODAFF receives dollars for OSU Extension, ag research, veterinary school
Under the state budget agreement, ODAFF’s received $3 million to be distributed to Oklahoma State University Extension offices and to OSU Agriculture Experiment Station research centers.
ODAFF also received $3 million for the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and $150,000 to improve state fairground facilities for Cattlemen’s Congress.
$20 million for county roads and bridges
To help improve and maintain infrastructure across the state, the state Legislature placed an additional $20 million into the County Improvements to Roads and Bridges fund and adjusted the formula for allocating dollars.
Of the $120 million total allocation to CIRB, Hilbert said $90 million will remain in the CIRB fund and $30 million will be distributed directly to counties.
“That’s what I was hearing from county commissioners back home is, ‘Yes we have these big projects and needs, but right now we’re having a hard time just maintaining the roads that we currently have,’” Hilbert said. “That $30 million, we really wanted to make sure it was going to where it was needed, and especially to rural Oklahoma.”
Hilbert said dollars will be distributed to counties based one-third on the county’s area, one-third on total road miles and one-third on the bridges within the county.
“That way we’re really targeting the counties that really need the money,” he said.
General budget provisions
Other state budget provisions to note include a reduction of the state corporate income tax rate from 6% to 4%, a lowering of all state personal income tax rates by 0.25%, and the addition of more than $800 million to state savings accounts.
The budget bills now await final approval by Gov. Kevin Stitt. The state legislative session must adjourn by next Friday, May 28.