Lawmakers can’t agree on plan to give back $140 million to Oklahoma agencies

Oklahoma State Capitol

Oklahoma State Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Mary Fallin met with legislative leaders to discuss what to do with more than $100 million.

Last fiscal year, state agencies were forced to make drastic cuts to cover a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

Many of those cuts resulted in the loss of jobs, programs and assistance for Oklahoma families.

In July, state leaders announced that $140 million no longer needed to be cut, and have since been working to decide what to do with the funds.

Gov. Mary Fallin announced that she was considering holding a special session to discuss using the money for teacher pay raises.

On Thursday, Fallin met with legislative leaders to discuss a plan on what to do with the $140.8 million.

“The governor and legislative leaders met today to discuss their commitment to an alternative teacher pay raise rather than the Boren tax increase, which has been reported that it would give Oklahoma the highest sales tax in the nation. With so many legislators terming out and a large number of new legislators who will be elected and sworn into office in mid-November, it was decided to continue to develop a teacher pay raise plan with reform that will be introduced at the beginning of the next legislative session.

“Legislative leaders want the $140.8 million initially cut from agencies in the 2016 fiscal year and now available again returned equally to agencies. The governor asked legislative leaders to priority-base the distribution of those funds so pressing needs at agencies like the Department of Education, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services could be more fully addressed, but a consensus to do so could not be reached. The funds will instead be sent to agencies with September general revenue allocations.” – Michael McNutt, communications director for Governor Mary Fallin.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association released its own statement on the decision.

“Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s decision to not ask lawmakers to conduct a special session to redistribute more than $140 million in funds appropriated to state agencies is the right move. However, she could have saved state agencies and their employees three months of worry by reaching this decision shortly after announcement of the surplus was made. The Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) understands the need to find ways to fund both core functions of government and public education, but a special session was not the answer.

When lawmakers return to the capitol in February, they must address the anticipated budget shortfall by providing state agencies with a supplemental appropriation. Failure to do, early in the session will likely result in additional cuts to crucial state services that millions of Oklahomans rely on. Our highways will be less safe because there will be fewer troopers on the roads. Help for troubled youth will be harder to access as the Office of Juvenile Affairs and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services curtails services. All state services will be further damaged, in some capacity, unless lawmakers prioritize a supplemental appropriation.

OPEA appreciates state leaders who listened to OPEA members and understood that a special session, costing taxpayers even more, was not an answer to funding woes in state agencies or public education.”