Oklahoma Speaker removes budget committee chair
By KEN MILLER
Jul. 18, 2017
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The speaker of the Oklahoma House has replaced the head of the powerful House Appropriations and Budget Committee amid a disagreement about cuts to services by the state Department of Human Services.
Republican Speaker Charles McCall removed Republican Rep. Leslie Osborn as chair of the committee that oversees the state budget, McCall spokesman Jason Sutton said Tuesday. But he said the decision was unrelated to statements Osborn made in recent days in which she publicly disagreed with McCall about the DHS cuts.
"The speaker had a discussion with Rep. Osborn," Sutton said. "And afterward he decided to appoint Rep. Kevin Wallace to chair the committee."
Wallace, also a Republican, was the committee vice chair.
"The speaker makes decisions he believes are in the best interest of the House Republican Caucus," Sutton said. "This decision has nothing to do with recent public comments by Rep. Osborn or any other representative."
Osborn said in a statement she is "disheartened," but will continue working to provide leadership in the state.
"It is a sad day when we cannot have an honest conversation about the major financial and budget issues we face as a state," Osborn said.
Last week, the Department of Human Services announced $30 million in cuts to services to children, senior citizens and residents with disabilities, despite an increase in state funding, as it deals with what Director Ed Lake says is the cumulative effect of previous cuts and increased costs.
On Friday, McCall questioned the cuts in a news release.
"Frankly, I am perplexed as to why an agency that could afford these programs last year would claim it can no longer afford them this year after receiving a $53 million increase from taxpayers," said McCall. "This is an agency that received $700 million in taxpayer dollars last session."
McCall said the department should be among the first agencies to be audited under a bill he authored that was passed and signed into law earlier this year.
On Monday, Osborn and Republican Reps. Earl Sears and Pat Ownbey, both chairs of subcommittees of the budget panel, released a statement expressing concern over what they believe is "a mischaracterization" of the cuts.
"There's no doubt that DHS's costs have grown far in excess of appropriations," Osborn said. "Over the last few years, the Legislature has worked hard to increase the appropriation ... but we can't discount the fact that, during this same period, DHS has faced cost increases and lost revenue totaling at least $175 million."
The three said they would welcome an audit, adding that it could show the department needs more funding, similar to a recent Department of Corrections audit.
Ownbey issued a statement saying he was disappointed with Osborn's removal.
"Leslie Osborn has done a wonderful job working with both sides of the aisle. In my opinion Representative Osborn has put Oklahoma first in the decisions she has made," Ownbey said.