“Difficult choices are inevitable,” Oklahoma agencies list impacts of nearly 15 percent budget cut

American dollars, Photo: tOrange.us / CC BY-SA 4.0

OKLAHOMA CITY – As lawmakers are working to fill an almost $900 million budget hole, agencies across the state are preparing for drastic cuts.

On March 7, the Department of Public Safety announced that they were asked to compile a list of the impact a nearly 15 percent budget cut would have on the agency.

“The perilous security environment created by a 15 percent budget cut places citizens at increased risk, local law enforcement at risk and our troopers’ lives at risk. This is a gathering Public Safety Crisis that can only be fixed by adequate funding, and everyone will feel the impact. Further triaging of resources, further cuts in mileage and no manpower replacements – all at a time when 26 percent of the OHP is eligible for retirement – makes this evolving situation far more sinister than budget crises of the past,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol Chief Rick Adams said.“The OHP is the only state law enforcement agency with a permanent presence in all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, to proactively prevent crime and traffic deaths. Troopers routinely protect Oklahomans from ‘things that go bump in the night’ as we carry out a wide range of mission demands. Those missions range from traditional traffic and commercial motor carrier enforcement, patrolling our waterways, providing statewide air support, antiterrorism efforts, bomb team capability, dealing with natural and manmade disasters, providing forces to quell riots and civil disturbances, the interruption and interdiction of criminal activity, conducting many types of criminal investigations, protecting the Governor and securing the capitol complex, and tracking down many of the state’s most dangerous criminals. Which of these missions do we abandon?”

If the agency had to cut its budget by 15 percent, officials say troopers would be furloughed, a hiring freeze would be put in place and employees would likely lose their jobs.

Officials say the cut would also stop an upgrade to their computer networks, which will affect the rollout of the REAL ID Act.

Mileage restrictions would deepen, and the OHP Academy would have to be delayed until 2019.

“A budget cut this significant is unsustainable for DPS/OHP,” said DPS Commissioner Michael C. Thompson. “The department exists to help protect the public, and this cut makes our mission incredibly challenging. The proposed cut for FY18, on the heels of deep FY17 cuts, will cripple our agency’s ability to serve Oklahoma. Difficult choices are inevitable if this cut becomes a reality.”

The Department of Public Safety isn’t the only agency worried about the potential budget cuts.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association announced that lawmakers asked state agencies to develop a service reduction scenario for a 14.5 percent shortfall as a way to balance the budget without cutting common education and funding teacher pay raises.

“We must not balance next year’s budget by further hurting local communities, state employees and services,” OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley said. “If lawmakers approve this type of budget, that is exactly what they will be doing.”

Last year, many state agencies were left in dire straits following a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.